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April 13, 2007

Cochlear implant conference held in NC

From: News 14 Charlotte, NC - Apr 13, 2007

By: Shannon Peluso

CHARLOTTE -- More than 20 million people in the United States are deaf or hard of hearing. About a million of those people are children under the age of 17. But advancements are making it possible for the deaf to hear.

Twelve-thousand people are in Charlotte this weekend for the 11th International Conference on Cochlear Implants in Children co-hosted by UNC-Chapel Hill.

"I was born profoundly deaf,” said Cochlear implant patient Jack King. “For 24 years, I never used a phone. It was terrible, my mother had to call my dates for me in high school.”

Different from hearing aids, Cochlear implants are surgically positioned in the patient's skull.

Dr. Harold Pillsbury, an Otolaryngologist and Otologist/Neurotologist at UNC Hospitals, explained, “They call them bionic ears, because they really enable people to re-enter the hearing world.”

The first Cochlear Implant surgery happened in the late 1950's, but back then the implant was so large the patient was unable to travel with it. Now the implants are so small, they're barely even noticeable.

UNC Hospitals is ranked among the top five places in the country to have the surgery. Natalie Skergin's three-and-a-half year old and Holly Shoun's five-year-old both received bilateral implants at the hospital and can now hear, thanks to the devices.

Skergin says her daughter is doing well. "She's caught up with her normally hearing peers. She talks all the time. Sometimes we have to tell her to stop talking."

Shoun’s son is also doing great. “He has made tremendous progress and has truly flourished,” she added.

But the implants have their critics. Some say bilateral implants are risky because they could prevent the possibility of regaining hearing naturally. But Skergin says the result was worth the risk. “Hearing loss in children isn't life-threatening, but it’s quality of life threatening, and we just wanted to give her the best quality of life possible,” she said.

Now working as an audiologist, King says his bilateral implants have given him a fulfilling life and career. "As with anything else in life, there’s no guarantee,” he added. “But I think the potential (and) the benefit has so much to offer."

The conference is co-sponsored by the American College of Surgeons and UNC-Chapel Hill. It ends on Saturday. For more information about the conference, visit the official website.

©2007Charlotte News Channel, L.L.C d.b.a. News 14 Carolina