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November 24, 2003

Implant turns toilet into Niagara Falls

From: Wodonga Border Mail, Australia - Nov 24, 2003

RAY Meyer cried when he saw his wife react to a test that suggested she was suitable for surgery that might restore her hearing.

Barbara Meyer had been deaf for 33 years.

Her hearing began to deteriorate from the age of 10 when, with a group of school friends, she jumped off a moving train as it entered the platform, miscalculated her leap and was concussed for three days.

Her hearing was affected immediately and by the time she was 20 just 1 or 2 per cent of her hearing remained in her right ear.

More than 30 years ago a surgeon had taken a piece of bone from her hand and inserted it into her ear.

The operation had worked in other people but it failed for Mrs Meyer and upset her balance for 12 years until more surgery removed the bone.

Last year Mrs Meyers audiologist persuaded her to consider a cochlear implant.

The beeps during an early assessment were the first sounds she had heard in years.

She was placed on a year-long waiting list.

The operation, carried out at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney, involved the insertion of electrodes that would send signals to her brain through the remaining nerve fibres and an external speech processor that rests on her head, held in place by a magnet drawn to a piece of metal inserted under her scalp.

Then came probably the most crucial hearing test of them all.

"The audiologist knew I could lip-read so she put her hand over her mouth and said my favourite colour is blue," Mrs Meyer said.

"I said I like blue, too. Well, all the girls were crying."

Mrs Meyers world changed.

A toilet flush "sounded like Niagara Falls" and a "swish-swish" she suddenly heard at their previous home at Batemans Bay, turned out to be the surf on the beach.

The $10,000 speech processor gave her an anxious moment when it disappeared - it had "leapt" off her head and attached itself to the door frame as she stepped from the car.

After the joy of the first operation Mrs Meyer, now of Rutherglen, was devastated to learn she had a staph infection.

The surgeon, Prof William Gibson, said because the infection was under the metal components of the implant it would not heal without its removal.

Although the Meyers were upset, Prof Gibson was upbeat.

He would simply perform the same operation on her right ear.

The second operation was also successful.

"I get up of a morning and switch it on and the first thing I hear is Ray snoring, so I switch it off!" Mrs Meyer said.

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