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June 1, 2004

Cochlear implants have helped Richmond Valley couple

From: Staten Island Advance - Staten Island,NY,USA - Jun 1, 2004

Implant connects directly into the cochlear nerve, stimulating the nerve cells and giving the brain signals of what the sound is

Tuesday, June 01, 2004


For many people living with partial deafness, there's hope.

Just ask the Dale family of Richmond Valley.

Dennis Dale, who works for the Advance, became deaf as a child after a bout with meningitis. His wife, Barbara, was born deaf in her right ear and had little hearing in her left.

In 1984, Dennis became the sixth patient to receive a cochlear implant from the New York University (NYU) Cochlear Implant Center in hopes of restoring his hearing. Seventeen years and 1,000 patients later, Barbara received the same implant in 2001 because of her hearing loss.


The implant doesn't amplify sound as a hearing aid does, it connects directly into the cochlear nerve, stimulating the nerve cells and giving the brain signals of what the sound is. It provides useful hearing and improved communication ability to the implant user.

The implant though can only be used in nerve deafness, wherein the nerve fibers prevent the delivery of sound information to the brain.

According to the NYU Center, only 30 percent of people in the U.S. who would benefit from the implant know about it or have it. That is 70 percent of the nerve deaf population that don't know that this can change their lives. Those with nerve deafness at any age can receive this implant and it has proven to be extremely effective in speech and language development in children.

The implant is designed for those with "hearing loss that is so bad that the patient doesn't get enough benefits from hearing aids," said Dr. Noel Cohen, professor of otalarynogolgy and founder of the cochlear implant program at NYU.

That was the story for Dennis: He never benefited from a hearing aid. One he did have met its fate years ago in the East River when, frustrated, he threw it in.


Whether or not the implant is the right choice "depends tremendously on what their problem was," Dr. Cohen said, adding that there are other factors to be considered when looking at candidates for the procedure -- such as how long they've been deaf and how many ganglion cells (nerve fibers) they have to work with. "We can't always anticipate how well they're going to do."

For Dennis, it took time to get used to the implant. His hearing hasn't changed much. "It doesn't get any worse, but it's not any better," he said.

When he was young and using a hearing aid, it didn't help at all, he reported.

With his latest processor, he has been able to make out a few sentences here and there without looking at the person speaking. That's new for him. "I can make out sounds when I'm driving. Sirens, horns blowing, I can make that out."

In terms of music, he said he can tell what type of music it is, but can't make out a particular song. "I can tell a trumpet over something else."


"The Dale family is a wonderful example of the spectrum of results," Dr. Cohen continued. Dennis had two strikes against him, he said: He was deaf early and for a long time.

"Dennis got the first generation of multicochlear implants in 1984. He can hear environmental sounds and he has excellent lip reading skills so he does better than without it," Dr. Cohen said.

Barbara's case was different, the couple's doctor noted. "She lost her hearing as adult. We had a good diagnosis. She received a very modern, third generation implant."

Barbara was born deaf in her right ear and has always worn a hearing aid. She had some hearing in left ear.

Three years ago, her hearing declined and she went to Dr. Cohen at her husband's suggestion. "I was very happy that I went. I could not fathom the thought of not hearing anything," she said.

What does that mean for her? "You can carry on a normal conversation with her eyes closed, talk to her on telephone," Dr. Cohen explained.

"It was a scary experience for me because I had some residue of hearing," said Barbara Dale. After the surgery, she had no hearing for about four weeks. "I felt so isolated," she said.

Before, she could pop in a hearing aid and hear something. During that period, there was nothing.

When Mrs. Dale's hearing began to return with the implant, people's voices sounded high-pitched, "like Minnie Mouse," she said. But, "in a matter of weeks, things became almost normal.

"Some sounds are new to me," she said, noting that she had never heard the humming of a computer before. When she quizzed her children about the sound, they had no idea what she was talking about.

"My kids aren't aware," said the mother of three. "They take sound for granted."

"I don't hear everything," she said. She misses some one-syllable words and often misses the beginning of a sentence here and there.

High frequency words, like ball, tall and wall are often hard to decipher. But listening to an entire sentence, "I can figure it out," said the teacher for the deaf and hard of hearing.

"I'm able to use a phone," she said, which is something her husband can not do.

Even in a noisy environment, Mrs. Dale understands about 75 percent of the sentences in a conversation. "Recently, my progress is good," she said. "If it's quiet, I can hear people talk. It depends on the acoustics. Every place is different."


The pieces themselves have come a long way, the Dales agreed. The original wire headset had a microphone touching the skin that wasn't reliable. "It wasn't very successful," Mrs. Dale said. "It never really made contact. It kept shifting."

Although her hearing has greatly improved with the new implant, Barbara must wear a behind the ear (BTE) device that holds it in place. "After awhile it gets uncomfortable," she said. And insurance won't pick up the newer, more comfortable model.

"The two of them really exemplify the problem, that not all nerve deafness is the same," Dr. Cohen said.

Copyright 2004 The Staten Island Advance.