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March 11, 2003

Implant Offers Sound After Years Of Silence

From: WMUR-TV, NH - 11 Mar 2003

Approximately 28 million Americans, or about 1 in every 10 people in the United States, has a hearing loss.

A medical breakthrough could help thousands of deaf people go from silence to sound in a matter of weeks.

For some deaf people, they are born unable to hear. For others, it happens later in life.

Frank Dibella could hear for years. Then one day, his hearing started to fade, until he couldn't hear at all.

Dibella has a rare condition that caused him to lose his sense of sound. He developed tumors on his auditory nerve. When the tumors were removed, so was his hearing.

"By removing these tumors, the person automatically loses a hearing nerve and, therefore, they don't have one to transmit the sound," said Dr. Michael Larouere of the Michigan Ear Institute.

To try to regain some of his hearing, Dibella was one of the first people in Michigan to try a new device at the Michigan Ear Institute. Dibella was given an auditory brainstem implant.

"In many patients who go deaf, we're able to put these implants in and allow them to hear again," said Larouere.

Dibella underwent an eight-hour surgery where a device is implanted.

"It is implanted adjacent to the brain stem and stimulates the auditory nucleus, which is in the brain stem. That then gives information to the brain so the patient can hear," said Larouere.

But Dibella will have to wait to find out if the device works for him.

His audiologist, Paulette McDonald, said the device is turned on about six weeks after the surgery, and Dibella should be able to hear.

Dibella said he can hear environmental sounds.

"I can hear a lot of noises that I couldn't hear before," Dibella said.

McDonald will see him every few months to fine-tune the device.

"You're sort of waking up the brain that hasn't heard in so long. It's saying 'Let's get to work,' and it just takes a while for it to all kick in, so to speak," said McDonald.

With each "tune-up," Dibella has a better chance at hearing more sounds.

"I feel more connected with the universe," said Dibella.

Copyright 2003 by All rights reserved.