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April 3, 2004

High-tech hearing aids changed their lives, and users sound off with praise

From: Salt Lake Tribune, UT - April 2, 2004

By Carey Hamilton
The Salt Lake Tribune

Some people might think the ABC show "Extreme Makeover" focuses on the superficial, but for one woman, it gave her something much more important than breast implants or a face lift.

When Cynthia Lunceford applied for the show, she requested LASIK surgery and a tummy tuck. But she also came out with digital hearing aids that the staff surprised her with, and the devices have transformed her life.

"I wanted the LASIK so I could read lips better," said the Baton Rouge, La., woman, who turns 50 today. "I used to have to work so hard to lip read, I was exhausted by the end of the day. Now, my whole life is much more relaxed, and I can enjoy talking to people instead of having to try so hard to understand them."

Lunceford was born with congenital nerve deafness, a condition that forced her to live with severe hearing loss. She was in Salt Lake City on Thursday at the American Academy of Audiology annual convention to promote the hearing aid that opened up her world -- the Power Diva.

Made by Widex U.S.A. of New York City, the Diva "raise what it thinks you want to hear and filters out background noise," said James Cola, the company's director of marketing. The devices are a little larger than a cashew and fit behind Lunceford's ears, hidden by her hair. She can easily change the modes when she wants to listen to music or talk on the telephone.

"There is a wonderful world of hearing out there, and if you have a loss, you are missing out on so much of life," Lunceford said.

Bruce Sharp, who sells the Divas at Sharp Hearing Systems in Salt Lake City, said he has seen the difference the Divas make. His mother and aunt suffered from hearing loss as they aged.

"Both women have worn hearing aids in the past," Sharp said. "Since I fitted them with the Divas, they are functioning much better."

Hearing aids have improved tremendously in recent years as researchers developed new technologies. Digital hearing aids take the continuous sound wave and break it up into small bits of information. The more sophisticated aids amplify speech while blocking out unwanted noises, such as air conditioners.

Researchers at Brigham Young University created the technology that helped launch Salt Lake Valley-based Sonic Innovations in the late 1990s. The company markets a device called the "Natura," which a hearing care professional can customize to compensate for a customer's specific impairment.

Shawnae Jebbia, Miss USA 1998, uses the Natura and is the company's spokeswoman.

"She had worn a number of aids and said the Natura changed her life," said Andrew Raguskus, Sonic's president and chief executive. "The most important thing is we have provided hearing aids to 250,000 people around the world and helped improve their lives."

© Copyright 2004, The Salt Lake Tribune.