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March 10, 2005

Cochlear implant opens doors for hearing-impaired

From: Bennington Banner - Bennington,VT,USA - Mar 10, 2005

Staff Writer

MANCHESTER -- "Say what?" became Eric Crawford's catchphrase shortly before he discovered he had a gradual form of hearing loss about 20 years ago.

So, the Bennington resident and longtime carpenter got a hearing aid to make sense of the sounds around him. But eventually his wife complained her words never seemed to be getting through, so she sent her husband off to an audiologist.

Crawford went to Mid-Vermont ENT on Main Street last August, where physicians did some testing and suggested he consider getting a cochlear implant, a device designed to restore hearing for the severe and profoundly hearing impaired.

ENT audiologists referred Crawford to Burlington's Fletcher Allen Hospital for the surgery and about a month later he returned to Manchester where the implant was turned on.

And, oh, how the sounds did return.

"It was very shocking," Crawford said during a late February interview on "Q and A Live" with host Don Keelan. "Your mind has to adjust to it and my mind was ready for it."

Crawford said it was overwhelming hearing sounds he hadn't heard too well - or at all - since 1985. He credited Mid-Vermont ENT with helping him hear his wife again, even if she was still "nag, nag, nagging" him.

Dr. Ted Shattuck and audiologists Katherine Lowkes and Kathleen Lessler appeared with Crawford on Keelan's show to talk about ear disease and disorders, hearing aids, assisted listening devices and how a cochlear implant works.

Shattuck, Lowkes and Lessler, all from Mid-Vermont ENT, announced they had started working with six patients interested in the implant and that Crawford was one of the success stories.

Four other patients have also received the implant, which has been in development since the late 1970s.

But the audiologists said the device isn't for everyone and is also costly, at between $20,000 and $50,000, including the price of the implant, surgery and programming.

The device - which includes a microphone, a speech processor and a transmitter - is surgically placed behind a person's ear and regularly programmed so the user is sure to receive sounds clearly.

The National Association for the Deaf in 2000 issued a statement about the implant in which they stressed the devices don't eliminate deafness.

The group went on to say the devices may destroy what remaining hearing an individual may have. Therefore, the association said, if the deaf or hard-of-hearing child or adult later prefers to use an external hearing aid, that choice may be removed.

Lowkes said Mid-Vermont ENT sees patients who are deaf and use sign language and that while some of them have an interest in cochlear implants, other people do not. Either way, she said, patients are told the implants aren't a cure-all for the deaf.

Crawford said that even though he had some initial reservations about the implant, he was glad audiologists at Mid-Vermont ENT recommended the device for him.

He recalled a story in which he'd been in a store and heard a bell ringing when someone walked through the door. He said he hadn't heard the sound since 1985 so when he heard the sound once again late last year, he was ecsatic.

"I heard the bell," he said, smiling. "I said to my brain, 'Eric, this is sound.'"

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