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February 13, 2004

Woman gains confidence , hearing after TV appearance

From: The Advocate - Baton Rouge,LA,USA - Feb 13, 2004

Advocate staff writer

Cynthia Lunceford is no longer the kids' favorite carpool driver.

"I can hear what they're saying now," she said, extolling the virtues of her new hearing aids.

Lunceford was recently featured on ABC's "Extreme Makeover," for which she underwent not only a physical makeover but was the first person in the United States to receive Widex Senso Diva hearing aids.

Her makeover involved a face lift, brow lift, upper and lower eyelid lift, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, tummy tuck, skin resurfacing, Lasik eye surgery and dental work that included porcelain veneers, a bridge and whitening.

"I was delighted with everything," she said, "but the thing that most affected quality of life for me was the new hearing aids."

Born with congenital nerve deafness, Lunceford compensated by becoming a master lip reader. However, in recent years, her sight had also deteriorated, further compromising her ability to communicate. (The Lasik eye surgery corrected that.)

The new digital hearing aid technology is touted as "high definition hearing" to automatically improve speech understanding in noisy situations. It uses directional intelligence by combining dual microphones with digital signal processing to automatically locate and minimize extraneous background noise.

"Now I can hear people talking behind me," Lunceford said. "I can hear in large groups. And I can appreciate music again. It's incredible. Everything is richer, clearer and sharper."

Daughter of former Gov. Dave Treen and mother of three, Lunceford said she no longer dreads going to parties or events or out to eat with husband Lloyd Lunceford. "For my 40th birthday, I didn't want to have a big party with a lot of people and a band because I couldn't hear well in those situations. But my 50th birthday is coming up and I'm ready to party."

With an 80 percent hearing loss in her right ear and a 90 percent loss in her left ear, Lunceford still scored 60 to 80 percent on a speech discrimination test wearing her old digital hearing aids. That meant she heard and understood too well to qualify as a candidate for cochlear implants, according to experts.

That's when she was considered for the Senso Diva hearing aids, which she received just before Thanksgiving.

"There are basically three tiers of digital hearing aids," said Melissa Hall, an audiologist with ENT Associates here.

Many manufacturers no longer even make the old analog hearing aids. Hall classifies the three tiers of digital hearing aids as: basic, mid-range and high-end, with retail prices ranging from under $2,000 a pair to about $6,000 a pair. (Health insurance policies rarely cover even a portion of the cost of hearing aids.)

All digital hearing aids are computer programmable capable of being adjusted for an individual's needs, as necessary, she said. Basic hearing aids have two to five channels; mid-range have up to 15 channels with adjustments for different environments; and high-end (like the Senso Diva and others) automatically switch between programs, cancel feedback, control volume and zero in on speech.

Even with the sophisticated technology, the high-end hearing aids are only useful for people who have enough hearing to be able to hear the directional microphones, Hall said. "I have the Senso Divas on order and expect to get some in my office by late February because I've already had patients calling me about them.

"Hearing aid technology has changed so much in recent years that most people will experience improvement," the audiologist said. Hearing aids are fitted and sold on a trial basis and can be returned if they don't work well.

Senso Diva is programmed for particular listening modes including: regular, one-on-one, phone conversations, omnidirectional and music, Lunceford said.

As the local leader of five Weight Watchers groups each week, Lunceford said now she can hear what's going on around her with less strain than before. "I find it less stressful. And I no longer have to go places a half hour early to get a front-row seat so that I can hear."

Still, she said, she hopes she doesn't lose her ability to be a good listener. "I've always had to give someone my full attention when they're talking to me and really watch their face and lips. I find myself still reading lips, mostly out of habit. And there are still some situations where I don't hear everything. But I guess that's true for everybody."

(Anyone wanting more information on the Senso Diva hearing aids can visit the company's Web site at: or call 888-999-3779.)

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