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April 12, 2006

Cochlear implants a controversial issue

From: The Republican, MA - Apr 12, 2006

I first heard about cochlear implants in a chat at, where I met my husband.

I was intrigued by this new invention to help people hear. I asked questions, listened to people's experiences and did my own research.

I was also surprised to learn how controversial this issue is. I decided to investigate both sides.

I have been wearing hearing aids since age 3 and was raised orally. My experience with hearing aids was very positive, and they helped me stay connected to the world and reach my goals.

Like hearing aids, cochlear implants were developed to help people hear better and communicate with the world. Many people are against these implants because they believe the device will change the person or harm deaf culture.

I believe that cochlear implants enhance people's lives just like contact lenses, artificial limbs and hearing devices do. It should be an individual's decision based on their research and goals.

More importantly, their choices should be respected, because everyone's circumstances are different. To be eligible for a cochlear implant you must have severe to profound hearing loss in both ears and get no significant benefit from hearing aids.

If the person qualifies for the implant, they will need to choose between three brands of implants. The three brands are manufactured by Advanced Bionics, Cochlear Corp. and Med-El.

Due to advances in the technology, patients at some centers have the option of going bilateral, meaning both ears will be implanted. After being approved, surgery is done, which is a two- to three-hour process to implant a small receiver behind the ear. This receiver is connected to an array of electrodes inserted into the person's cochlea.

About a month after the surgery, activation takes place with the help of a headpiece and speech processor. The audiologist programs, or maps, the person's speech processor to meet the individual's needs and preferences. This programming needs to be done frequently in the beginning as the person adjusts to hearing with the implant and then less frequently as time goes on.

Programs can be created for different listening situations, such as classrooms, noisy locations or the telephone.

Soundwaves enter a microphone on the head piece and then continue to the speech processor, where the sound is converted into a signal for the electrode array. These signals then stimulate the proper electrodes on the array, taking the place of the non-functioning hair cells in the cochlea.

These sound signals are then interpreted by the user's brain into meaningful sound. Sometimes, depending on individual cases, a speech pathologist helps people new to the cochlear implant understand the sounds, improve speech and lip-reading.

I greatly admire the people I have met who attempt this procedure for their courage and determination in making their lives better. The benefits are amazing, helping people communicate orally with others.

Carrie Barrepski, a native of Livonia, Mich., lives in Western Massachusetts. You can learn more about Carrie at her Web site, www.carriewrites. She can be reached at

© 2006 The Republican.