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January 29, 2003

Breaking the silence

From: Zanesville Times Recorder, OH - 29 Jan 2003

Implants help the hearing-impaired hear the noises of everyday life

TR Staff Writer

CHRIS CROOK/Times Recorder

Zanesville High School student Jenna Woodburn speaks through her interpreter Tuesday afternoon. Woodburn wears a cochlear Inplant.

Before her daughter celebrated her first birthday, Jennifer Woodburn learned her oldest child was born deaf.

But rather than allowing her daughter's disability to hold back the bright-eyed, blond-haired little girl, Woodburn and her family embraced the notion of helping the youngster develop into the curious, intelligent 15-year-old high school sophomore she is today.

"I think communication is such an important factor in how a child develops," Woodburn said of her daughter, Jenna, and how the family learned American Sign Language as soon as they found out.

When Jenna was just 5 years old, Woodburn and her husband decided to have the youngster fitted with a cochlear implant. On top of their hopes that the procedure would break the silence inside their daughter's head, Woodburn said the aim was also to help the child learn to talk.

A cochlear implant is a small device that provides direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve inside the inner-ear. In sensorineural hearing loss -- where there is damage to the tiny hair cells in the cochlea -- sound cannot reach the auditory nerve. With a cochlear implant, the damaged hair cells are bypassed and the auditory nerve is stimulated directly.

"It helps me understand what people are saying to me," Jenna Woodburn said of the electronic device implanted in her head. "I heard nothing before the cochlear."

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, a cochlear implant does not cure profound deafness or restore hearing loss. The device does, however, allow for the perception of sound through sensation inside the ear.

Both mother and daughter agreed that the road to talking and speech recognition was long and often difficult. Jenna worked years with her parents, teachers and speech therapists in order to learn how to speak the words she signed for so long. Today, while she may still be shy, the teen will even read aloud in front of her classes at Zanesville High School.

"She had no idea what she was hearing. It was so emotional because I wanted her to hear me," said Woodburn, who now works as a sign language interpreter with the hearing-impaired program at Zanesville City Schools. "We have no regrets that she's deaf. The only thing that's hard is watching how hard everything is for her."

In another case, it had been more than 35 years since Phillip Munyan heard the birds outside his house sing or a dog bark.

The 75-year-old New Lexington man literally spent more than 35 years lip-reading at work, at home and at the store after losing his hearing when he was 25 years old.

Nowadays -- more than 13 years after getting his first cochlear implant as part of a veteran's hospital study in Michigan -- Munyan likes the noises of daily life he missed out on for so long.

"I had a hearing aid once before, but I couldn't hear anything through it, just noise," Munyan said. "I couldn't understand speech too good. I don't think there's anything that could beat these."

Munyan is one of thousands of deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals who went through the costly surgical procedure in hopes of regaining a portion of his hearing.

Adult-onset hearing loss runs in Munyan's family. His daughter, Carol Dennis, 47, joins a growing line of relatives who lost a portion of their hearing by the time they turned 25, due to a condition known as auditory neuropathy.

In 1999, after trying several different hearing aids and battling with her insurance company for more than a year, Dennis heard her husband's voice for the first time in 10 years the day doctors at Ohio State University Medical Center turned on her cochlear implant.

"I wear it as soon as I get up in the morning and it's the last thing I take off at night," Dennis said. "Before, it was like living in a glass box. You see everything happening around you, but you don't know what's going on unless somebody takes the time to tell you."

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