IM this article to a friend!

June 1, 2004

Cochlear implant gives man the opportunity of a lifetime -- the chance to hear

From: Mattoon Journal - Mattoon,IL,USA - Jun 1, 2004

By JANICE HUNT, Staff Writer

For nearly 50 years, Michael Kyle went through this world without knowing the sounds of a breeze blowing through the trees, water rippling over rocks or his children whispering, "I love you."

But then technology gave the Stewardson man the opportunity he thought he would never have. A cochlear implant gave him the chance to hear.

The device, implanted in the bone behind his left ear and wired into the cochlea in his inner ear, works in conjunction with an external component that is smaller than a pack of cards and is connected with a wire, much like older hearing aids.

Kyle, now 54, was born with 60 percent hearing loss. He started wearing a hearing aid when he was 3.

His hearing loss is thought to be caused by medication his mother took while she was pregnant with him to keep her from miscarrying, as she had twice before.

"But I'm happy to be born," he said, adding that his parents always gave him a lot of love and support.

"His mom lost her voice one time" because she was repeating words over and over to help the young boy learn to say them correctly, said Kyle's wife, Connie.

Growing up with hearing problems was "a little rough," Kyle said. He was always in a special class with students with problems of all kinds, so if he needed extra help, he could get it.

"I liked school, but it was hard," he said, telling of children making fun of him. "But I got used to it."

As he got older, his hearing got worse each year. By 1999, he could hardly hear anything, even with both hearing aids. He had more than 80 percent hearing loss.

Then, he heard about cochlear implants, and his brother encouraged him to get one.

"He wanted me to have it done so I could enjoy myself," Kyle said.

He scheduled the surgery in 1999. Fear prompted him to back out.

"I was afraid I'd not be able to hear," Kyle said. "(Or) that it might change my life too much. I didn't know what kind of person I was going to be."

But he gathered his courage and rescheduled the surgery, and he doesn't regret the changes it brought about in his life.

"It was unbelievable," Kyle said. "Before, when I had the hearing aid on, I couldn't hear a squirrel, couldn't hear a bird. When I've got this on, I can hear. I can hear trucks, I can hear birds at nighttime. It's not 100 percent, but it's great."

Kyle was lucky he still had some hearing left, because his brain was still used to processing sounds.

"I didn't like it (at first) ... because your brain has to get used to it," he said. That took about three months, and after a year, the clarity had significantly improved.

"Don't give up," he said to those considering the surgery. "You have to fight for it."

With the implant, he can hear more than 80 percent, and he can use the phone when talking with familiar voices.

The Kyles' daughter is expecting their first grandchild in December, and he's looking forward to hearing the baby's voice.

Some sounds have proven to be annoying, like his dog's toenails tapping on the floor, the dryer buzzing and emergency sirens wailing.

But the good sounds by far outweigh the bad ones.

"I love music," he said. "I never heard much background before."

So, instead of hearing only bass, now he can hear higher pitches, including guitar. He likes country and some pop, but the real surprise was that he now really enjoys classical music.

"I used to hate it because I didn't care for the piano and the violin," he said. "Now I just love it."

He also enjoys watching movies with his wife.

Now that he has seen the benefits first-hand, he encourages children to have the surgery.

"It's nice for the kids to have it done," Kyle said. "That way, it makes it a lot easier for them to go through school. Better education, better job, better life, better future. I think they'll have an easier life.

"When I was young, I had a heck of a time finding a job."

Kyle worked as a drywaller for 27 years before a back injury ended that career. But thanks to the cochlear implant, he was able to start his own photography business.

"(Before the implant), I had to do all the talking," Connie Kyle said. "He wouldn't have been able to do photography at all because ... he couldn't understand people enough."

His speech has also improved now that he can hear more clearly.

"I didn't like to talk to people before I had this done," he said. "I'm not afraid to talk to anybody anymore. I just try to enjoy my life."

There are times that processing all of the noise "tires" his brain, he said. At those moments, he can simply remove the external component to "rest my brain."

"If I don't want to hear anybody, I just take it off the whole day," he said. He removes it while sleeping as well.

Batteries last about eight hours. He has three that he uses, keeping the spares charged up for when they're needed.

Kyle has nothing but praise for the staff at Carle Foundation Hospital, where he received the implant.

"They treated me so good," he said, praising the doctor and staff. "About the best I ever had."

Carle has directed some potential implant recipients to Kyle so they can see how much the surgery can improve their lives.

"Hearing is real important," he said. "I really enjoy having this."

Contact Janice Hunt at or 238-6866.

Cochlear implants help where hearing aids can't

People don't have to have total hearing loss to benefit from cochlear implant surgery.

"The general perception is that cochlear implants are only for the deaf, and that's not the case," said Jennifer Black, director of Adult Cochlear Implant Center at Carle Clinic in Urbana. "Implants help when hearing aids don't."

Cochlear implants provide hearing that's in the mild hearing loss range. But for those with severe hearing loss, that amount of hearing is a blessing.

"Even with hearing aids, they're not able to function adequately in most hearing situations," Black said. "For a surgical cochlear implant user, the quality of life change is tremendous."

People with severe hearing problems are isolated socially, oftentimes can't work and can't use the phone.

"After the implant, they are able to participate, they're able to follow conversations, they're able to use the telephone, they're able to have employment opportunities."

Potential candidates are people with severe to profound hearing loss in both ears, people with nerve deafness and people who no longer benefit from hearing aids.

Age is not a factor, Black said.

"The older a patient is, the longer the process will take, and the likelihood of an 85-year-old getting the same amount benefit that a 45-year-old would is slim."

Certain others factors also determine how much a person will benefit from an implant.

"The longer they've been deaf, the longer it will take them to get used to the implant," Black said. "The process of adapting to a cochlear implant occurs over months to years. It's not an overnight process."

The amount of nerve survival in the inner ear is very important, as is the condition of the pathway to the inner brain.

"If it (the pathway) hasn't been used for a long time, it takes a long time to get that up and running," Black said.

The surgery is a two-hour outpatient procedure.

An internal stimulator is implanted in the bone behind the ear. Electrodes are fed into the inner ear (cochlea).

After waiting for the incision to heal, which typically takes about a month, the external unit is added. It attaches magnetically over the implant and can be removed easily.

The external unit, a speech processor smaller than a deck of cards, picks up sound waves and converts them into electronic signals that are sent to the internal component, stimulating the auditory nerve, which then allows the wearer to hear.

After the external equipment is fitted, the patient undergoes a "rigorous process" of programming each of the device's 12 to 22 the electrodes (depending on the model) to best help that patient. The process is repeated every two to four weeks for six weeks.

Overall, the cost is in the $60,000 to $70,000 range. Generally, that is covered by most insurance programs, and Medicare covers 80 percent. Only a handful of cases are not covered, Black said.

A person who is interested is told to send his records to Carle so audiologists can determine whether surgery might be beneficial. If so, the patient is given an extensive audiologic workup to further determine eligibility.

The Carle program is the only such center in Illinois south of Chicago. It started in 1984.

Carle also has a children's program. It has the largest combined adult and children program in the state.

A cochlear implant support group meets at Carle on the first Saturday of even-numbered months. The meetings are organized and run by patients.

Meetings are for adults that have cochlear implants, but more importantly, they're for adults considering getting implants, Black said.

"We encourage the patients to bring a spouse or a family member because the impact of the hearing loss and the implant is almost as significant for them as it is for the user," Black said.

The next adult support group meeting is set for 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Carle Clinic. For information, call 383-4375.

Copyright © 2004 Journal Gazette and Times-Courier, divisions of Lee Enterprises .