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August 25, 2004

Doctors perform rare surgery to restore hearing

From: Kirksville Daily Express, Kirksville, MO - Aug 25, 2004

by Matthew Webber

Although Jennifer Pruett, 28, of Kirksville, can read lips, she wants to hear.

Doctors at Northeast Regional Medical Center performed a rare surgical procedure this morning that could return her hearing.

Mark Reader, Doctor of Osteopathy, placed a Cochlear Implant in the skin behind Pruett's left ear.

A Cochlear Implant is a small electronic device that receives sound signals, converts them into electronic impulses and sends them to the brain.

During the surgery, doctors make an incision in the skin and drill through the skull to reach the cochlea, which resembles a seashell. Doctors then place the body of the implant in a depression in the skull and guide a wiry electrode array into the cochlea.

The implant has both outer and inner components. After the surgery, the implant will be virtually unnoticeable, according to

Reader, the first to perform the procedure at Northeast in more than a decade, said the main challenge of the surgery is not injuring the facial nerve, which could induce paralysis. However, Reader said the procedure has a success rate of more than 80 or 90 percent.

The main goal of the surgery is to augment the patient's lip-reading and enable them to use the telephone, Reader said.

After about four to six weeks of healing, Pruett should be able to begin using her implant to hear. Because Pruett has experienced slight hearing in her right ear, Reader said she should be able to get used to her implant easily.

Pruett will be able to adjust the volume of her implant and remove its outer component for sleeping or bathing. Because it is magnetized, she may have to remove it to go through airport security.

Before the surgery, Pruett said she wasn't really nervous. After all, "If it doesn't work, I'm already deaf," she said.

Pruett said she hopes to go back to school to become a physical therapist.

"I'm hoping I will be able to hear and go back to school," she said. "It will give me new opportunities to explore."

Reader said there has not been a big demand for Cochlear Implants. Also, the initial guidelines were very strict. However, as the technology improves, more people are choosing to undertake the procedure.

Marilyn Nelson, surgical applications specialist for the Cochlear company, said the procedure is becoming more popular, although some people are still unaware of it.

"Awareness is really improving," Nelson said. "Some folks don't know it's available to them."

Screening infants for hearing problems is important, she said, because patients as young as 1 year old can receive a Cochlear Implant.

Nelson said there are about 55,000 Cochlear Implant recipients. Doctors perform the procedure about 5,000 times a year in the United States.

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