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March 1, 2005

Implants, technology aid hearing

From: Nashua Telegraph, NH - Mar 1, 2005

Telegraph Correspondent

Imagine not being able to hear your favorite song, the gentle patter of rain on your roof or the voices of your loved ones.

Now, imagine doctors provided you with a device allowing you to hear all those things and more. The only catch is that you don't understand what you're hearing - none of it makes any sense. It's like owning a model airplane kit with all the pieces and tools you need to put it together, but not having the instruction manual.

Such is the case for 4-year-old Evan Miskell, who was born without the ability to hear. At 2 years old, he received a cochlear implant to help integrate him into the hearing world.

"The most important thing is how much hearing (a cochlear implant) gives to a profoundly deaf child," said Michael Moon, founder and director of HEAR in New Hampshire, an auditory-oral school for hearing-impaired children in Hooksett. "Children who are deaf or hard of hearing can be taught to talk."

Because "teaching" is the key word, HNH spends hours each day instructing students how to interpret the sounds they're hearing through their implants and hearing aids.

The most prevalent birth defect, hearing loss affects three out of every 1,000 newborns. The necessity of catching hearing loss as soon as possible has prompted early detection and early intervention.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders Web site, nearly 10,000 children in the United States have received cochlear implants, small devices that electronically gather sounds and send them directly to the brain.

Surgically placed behind the ear, under the skin, the implant is inserted through the skull and into the inner ear, or cochlea. As defined by the NIDCD, the implant has four basic parts: "a microphone, which picks up sound from the environment; a speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone; a transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses; and electrodes, which collect the impulses from the stimulator and send them to the brain."

Though these devices allow sounds to be transmitted to the brain, a lot of post-implantation speech and auditory therapy is needed to ensure the recipient can differentiate sounds and communicate verbally with others. That's where HNH comes in.

In addition to therapy, the school employs the latest in FM technology. Because children with hearing aids and implants often receive too much background noise to be able to differentiate between sounds and voices, they need something to filter out excess "white noise."

According to Moon, the FM system is a microphone, worn by teachers, that transmits a frequency set aside by the FCC. The hearing aids and implants of students are tuned in to this frequency, allowing them to hear the teacher clearly, even if she is on the other side of the room.

The constantly evolving technologies, coupled with the teaching and therapy HNH provides, have allowed children such as Evan to successfully enter the hearing world.

Evan's mother, Jessalyn Miskell, said her once quiet and shy son is now a chatterbox.

"(HNH) knows what they're doing. . . . Evan has achieved so much. Those are his friends - he comes home and talks about his friends all the time!" Miskell said, admitting she's also grateful for the school's support of both her and her son. "Evan loves it, too - and that's the best part," she said.

© 2003, Telegraph Publishing Company, Nashua, New Hampshire