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April 11, 2005

Implant will let man, 52, hear clearly again

From: New York Daily News - New York,NY,USA - Apr 11, 2005


From age 8, Mitch Shapiro has felt his senses fade with the fear of one day waking up in total silence and darkness.

The 52-year-old Smithtown man is nearly blind and nearly deaf, but after he has ear surgery Friday, Shapiro said he expects to walk away a new man, no longer dependent on his failing hearing aids.

"I'm very excited and anxious," he said.

Dr. Tom Roland, one of the area's most well-known cochlear implant surgeons, will install a permanent hearing device in Shapiro's left ear, the weaker of the pair, at the New York University Cochlear Implant Center. Doctors told Shapiro the surgery will be "minimally invasive" and he will be able to go home the next day.

Three weeks later, the device will be completely hooked up, then adjusted every other week for the next six months.

During this time the brain will have to adjust to hearing sounds for the first time without the help of a hearing aid.

Two years ago, Roland performed the procedure on Shapiro's sister, who also suffers from Usher syndrome, a degenerative disease that leads to deafness and blindness. Roland has performed the surgery on patients as young as 6 months and as old as 92. "Candidates for surgery are those of all ages who show minimal to no benefit from hearing aids," he said.

The device Shapiro will receive is a model newly approved by the FDA. Cochlea Corp. calls it the "Freedom Device."

Shapiro said that after the surgery, a magnet will be permanently attached to the side of his head, a sight that can turn many people off from opting for the implant.

"My sister told me I will look like Frankenstein, but I'm not concerned with appearances," said Shapiro, who attributes his success to his no-quit attitude and corny sense of humor.

Shapiro said his sister has shown remarkable improvements, but if she hadn't attended a Florida conference a few years ago, they might never have learned about the procedure.

Shapiro said he was among the many hearing impaired who have not been educated on this breakthrough surgery.

As a public speaker and founder of the nonprofit Foundation of Sight and Sound, he informs people about the procedure and raises money for research and financial aid for those who cannot afford the surgery.

"Almost all the patients I speak to either didn't know about it or they thought you had to be 100% deaf," said Hayley Friedman, spokeswoman for the implant center.

Shapiro said he never thought of himself as someone with disabilities because he has been able to do almost everything he wanted in life.

Even with the implant, his hearing may deteriorate along with his vision as he ages, but Shapiro said he will continue to push forward.

"I'm happy to wake up each day and see the sun shine while I still can," Shapiro said. "And when I can no longer see it, I will envision it."

© 2005 Daily News, L.P.