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January 31, 2003

Eye On Health: Cochlear Implants

From: WISC, WI - 31 Jan 2003

How often do you have the chance to speak with someone who's considered deaf?

Probably not very often -- and most of us would need an interpreter.

That could be about to change. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is encouraging medical centers to see who in the deaf and hard-of-hearing community might benefit from a cochlear implant.

Cochlear implants offer many something they never thought possible -- a chance to hear.

Carleen Wild's special report ran on News 3 and Six and Ten on Jan. 30.


Thanks to modern science and medicine, Tricia Meinholz, 11, is gaining new confidence.

She was one of the first kids in the area to get cochlear implants.

The device for many is doing what no hearing aid ever could -- allowing them to hear.

Doctors are finding children, infants especially, are often the best recipients.

Tricia attends fifth grade at Park Elementary in Cross Plains.

She's not afraid to give her answers in front of the class, but she used to be.

"Even though I was there to sign for her, you could easily see she was withdraw because she didn't know how to communicate with other kids," her mom, Nancy Meinholz, said.

Part of the device is external and has a microphone and a speech processor.

The other part is surgically implanted in the skull with tiny wires inserted into the cochlea.

The implant bypasses damaged parts of the inner ear and electronically stimulates the nerve of hearing.

"She had been coming here for therapy for maybe 24 months and knew less than maybe 12 English sounds -- and less than 10 words were intelligible," Nancy said. "After two months of therapy -- as compared to two years -- she was able to say all letters of alphabet, knew 20-30 words, and had quadrupled the number of words could say intelligibly."

Tricia, her parents, and teachers are all happy with the outcome, but she knows she has a long way to go to reach her goal.

"I want to talk and sign at the same time, maybe like for someone who doesn't sign," Tricia said. "I could just talk and they'd understand. Or if I have a lot of things in my arms and want to tell mom something, I won't have to put everything down to tell her. I could just talk, and she'd understand."

Hennah McCoy, 7, who is profoundly hard of hearing, wants the implants and has visited with Tricia.

Hennah and her mom have many questions -- about what an implant could mean for them and if it hurts.

An implant could bring Hennah's hearing to a level considered almost normal, but the surgery isn't a done deal.

While it may sound like a simple decision to most of us, Hennah must go through the screening process.

"The irony in this process is, because she speaks so well and does as well with hearing aids, that may not allow her to be a candidate," her dad Kevin said.

There are many reasons Hennah and her parents wish she could hear better than she does.

She wants to be able to play more with kids in the neighborhood, or hear Mom and Dad when they call, or be less frustrated when trying to commmunicate with hearing people.

Also standing in the way: a hefty price tag.

The McCoy's insurance doesn't cover the procedure.

The cost of an implant is $50,000 to $80,000.

And some families worry an implant might cost them more than just the money.

Part of the controversy over cochlear implants is that the deaf community feels its being divided, and it doesn't want to lose someone like Hennah.

Hennah, who will still need their support, doesn't want to distance herself either.

"We're really fortunate, with an active deaf club, a great community in Madison that involves kids -- so they are exposed to good role models," Hennah's mom, Michelle Pelay, said. "If she comes up not being a candidate for the implant, would be fine with us. We want to do what's best for our daughter."

Online Resources:

These are the sites for the three manufacturers."

St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf