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Cochlear Implants Giving New Hope To Millions With Hearing Problems

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RALEIGH, N.C. — For the past few months, Rush Limbaugh fans have followed his ordeal with sudden hearing loss. Many were pleasantly surprised when the talker announced how well he was hearing thanks to his new cochlear implant.

Less than one week after turning on his cochlear implant, Rush Limbaugh is singing the device's praises. Just a few months ago, the talk show host was nearly deaf.

Now, Limbaugh rates his hearing at 80-90 percent. Surgeons at UNC were not surprised to hear how well Limbaugh is doing.

"He got an implant right away, so the brain was searching for sounds. It was trying to get input," said UNC surgeon Dr. Harold Pillsbury.

The learning curve is wider for people who are born deaf or have been deaf for awhile.

Durham's MED-EL Corporation is one of the leading makers of cochlear implants.

Thanks to new advances, the devices are smaller and better, but even older implants can be upgraded.

"Any upgrade in which we've had, we've been able to adapt to our older users," said MED-EL audiologist Ray Gamble.

In time, doctors expect Limbaugh's hearing to improve even more. They credit his motivation for much of his success.

"He has a huge motivation to do well. He's going to have an outstanding outcome from this," Pillsbury said.

Before they can implant the device, surgeons have to eliminate any hearing that is left in the ear. In the next few years, researchers hope to be able to retain that hearing and achieve even better results.