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December 10, 2003

$1.3 million to aid deaf

From: Vancouver Sun, Canada - Dec 10, 2003

Money will reduce waiting lists for cochlear implants

Nicholas Read
Vancouver Sun

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

VANCOUVER - Until just over a year ago, Nanaimo lawyer Chuck Radcliffe couldn't hear his clients (he had to get his secretary to translate their phone calls to him), the chit-chat his friends made when they came to visit ("When you're hard of hearing, you're literally alone in a crowd," he says), or his children ("They don't have the patience to stand still while Dad reads their lips").

Today, after his cochlear implant, he can hear them all.

"I'm standing before you actually deaf as a post, but able to function normally," he told a gathering at B.C. Children's Hospital Tuesday to announce provincial funding of $1.3 million that will enable more cochlear implants.

It's only the sound of women singing that still troubles him for some reason -- "it's like a set of TV chipmunks being called to prayer," he observes.

So no Celine Dion CDs under the tree, please; he's had enough sound distortion to last a lifetime.

The funding, which will be available to hard-of-hearing people throughout B.C., should reduce waiting lists for implants, say provincial officials, to the point where children will have to wait only six months for them, and adults a year.

Cochlear implants are electronic devices that enable profoundly deaf people to hear.

A discreet microphone worn all the time by the implant patient picks up sounds and transfers them to a small box-like processor usually worn on the person's back.

That device analyzes the sound -- be it speech or music or running water -- and breaks it down into its component frequencies.

Then it sends that information to a transmitter worn behind the ear which, in turn, sends pulses to a device in the inner ear.

That device reads those instructional pulses and tells a series of 22 electrodes how loud and how high the sound is.

Those electrodes then send signals to the auditory part of the brain that interprets them the way it would normal auditory signals: as sound.

The result, says Radcliffe, is that he has his life back again.

The first cochlear implants in B.C. were done in 1982. They were comparatively crude, says Dr. Sepke Pijl, director of audiology at St. Paul's Hospital -- he talks about having to adjust them with a screwdriver -- but they paved the way for today's computer-controlled models that Radcliffe says are the next best thing to hearing.

Four-year-old Jackson Gayda of North Vancouver probably has never known what it is like to hear normally, says his mother, Sarah Lecky. He likely was born totally deaf. However, he had an implant when he was only a year old and now he functions normally, she says. On Tuesday Jackson proved that by answering questions from the media and provincial Health Minister Colin Hansen, who wanted to pose for pictures with him.

"We're so thankful for it," said Lecky and her husband, Tim Gayda. "It's made a perfectly normal-hearing child."

The cost of an implant, surgery and follow-up assessment is about $34,000 per patient. That means that as a result of the new funding, the number of children who receive cochlear implants is expected to more than double next year to 65 from 26 in 2002.

The current adult waiting list has about 50 people on it, says Sepke, all of whom should be able to be treated in 2004.

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun