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Health Team

MRI-safe cochlear implant now available

Posted April 1, 2015

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— Cochlear implants have enabled more than 200,000 children and adults worldwide to hear, many for the first time in their lives. However, for implant patients, it becomes more difficult if they need MRI scans for other health issues. Now, there's a new MRI-safe cochlear implant.

All implants have a magnet under the scalp to connect to an external device. MRI scans use a strong magnetic force which affects the implant magnet.

“What happens is if the magnet can't twist when they do the study, it gets really hot and painful,” said Dr. Harold Pillsbury, a UNC otolaryngologist and head and neck surgeon.

There's also a risk of the magnet popping out of place. Often, implant patients undergo surgery to temporarily remove the implant's magnet before an MRI scan. An implant, made by the company "Med El,” changes all that.

“This thing saves all the cochlear implant patients who need an MRI from having to remove the magnet,” Pillsbury said.

Joe Long, 83, is the first patient in the world to receive the new MRI-safe cochlear implant. It is designed so that the magnet can twist inside its silicone shell. It's also shaped differently.

“It has a trapezoid shape instead of a linear shape,” Pillsbury said. “It would be a little bit more difficult for it to pop out the top.”

After surgery, Long will wait several weeks before the device is turned on. He and his family expect it to help him enjoy life more.

“Well, we're excited, because he'll be able to hear us,” said Doyle Long, Joe Long’s wife. “We're excited about this. We really are.”

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