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New Cochlear Implants A 'Sounding' Success

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CHAPEL HILL — New breakthroughs in cochlear technology are making the sense of sound a first for many people who cannot hear.

Cochlear implants keep getting smaller, but their benefits are getting bigger and better.

On Monday, MED-EL, a company in Research Triangle Park, received FDA approval for a new cochlear implant designed to help the deaf hear.

Unlike other implants, it is barely visible.

Scott Johndrow, 27, of Connecticut, lost his hearing as a baby. He received his first implant four years ago and is one of the first recipients of the new Combi 40 Plus cochlear implant.

Dr. Harold Pillsbury of UNC Hospitals implanted the device a few weeks ago. He says that so far, the new technology has been 100 percent effective.

"Every time we do a cochlear implant it's like hitting a home run," he says.

Johndrow does not have to wear a battery pack on his waist, like he did before. The new implant is powered by a one-inch battery which fits behind the ear.

"If you had one of these on, nobod would know you had it, because it would behind or underneath your hair and it would be invisible," says Pillsbury.

Before he can hear, an audiologist sets the levels on Johndrow's implant. Like keys on a piano, each sound has a different pitch and each one must be set to the right level.

After the adjustments were made, Johndrow turned to hear his mother. It is the moment his whole family has waited for..

"It's great to hear their voices," says Johndrow. "I've always wanted to know what they sound like, but I never thought I would."

"Since the day he lost his hearing, every single night I have prayed that some day he would hear," says his mother.

Johndrow has a lot of hard work ahead of him since he has to learn how to understand what he is hearing.His sister, a speech therapist in Wake Forest, will no doubt be helping him along the way.

Cochlear implant technology is still evolving. The next possible step is implanting the devices on both sides of the head to improve hearing even more.


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