Health Team

Audiologist hears again with cochlear implants

Posted May 27, 2009 5:32 p.m. EDT
Updated May 27, 2009 6:29 p.m. EDT

— There are few moments in life as dramatic as a person with profound hearing loss who is able hear again. Cochlear implants have helped many people, like Dr. Stephanie Sjoblad, do just that.

Sjoblad teaches an audiology class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She also helps fit hearing loss patients with hearing aids.

Sjoblad has worn a hearing aid since she was a child, so has her younger brother and older sister.

“My parents have normal hearing, so it was a genetic mutation that we found out within the past three or four years what the mutation was,” Sjoblad said.

Hearing aids worked at first, but her hearing loss grew more severe.

“When I met my husband, it was very difficult to hear him on the phone. It was difficult to set up dates,” Sjoblad said.

Like her brother, Dan, Sjoblad said she knew seven years ago, she would need a cochlear implant. After having two children, she scheduled the surgery.

Cochlear implants use a chain of 12 electrodes, that are threaded through a snail-shaped cochlea to stimulate the cochlear nerves. A magnetic contact under the scalp connects to an external processor.

After three weeks of healing, Marcia Clark Adunka sends Sjoblad beeping sounds so she can adjust volume in 12 channels. Then it is turned on to hear the first real sounds.

“I don't think it's too loud. It just sounds really weird,” Sjoblad said.

The brain is adjusting to the new stimulus.

“It's so robotic like, but even my voice, in two minutes sounds better than it did when you first activated it. When you first activated it I thought, 'Oh my gosh! This is what I'm going to sound like?' The more we talk, the better it sounds,” Sjoblad said.

Sjoblad will spend the summer learning to hear voices without relying on lip reading, and she is already doing that pretty well.

She said her experience with profound hearing loss helps her to better understand her patients, and to known when to refer them for implants.

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