What is a Cochlear Implant?
D. Richard Kang, M.D & Rodney Lusk, M.D.
A Cochlear Implant is a computer chip that is actually implanted just underneath the scalp. It has an electrode that comes out of the computer chip that is put into the inner ear. It has a coil on the other end that goes around the computer chip. That coil is how it gets its information from the processor that sits on the outside.
It’s a way for somebody to hear when the normal mechanism of hearing, which is through the inner ear cochlea, doesn’t work anymore.
The spectrum of candidates for cochlear implants, really start with babies that are identified as newborns that don’t have hearing in either ear. It goes all the way through to adulthood, even 80-year olds who have lost their hearing in the higher frequencies.
One of the primary things that Boys Town has to offer is the team. It is not one surgeon or one audiologist that is implanting patients. We have a whole group of people that evaluate children, and adults for that matter, to see how appropriate they are as a candidate and to shepherd them through their training after that.
It’s not enough for us to give the implant in there and now they are sensing the sound. It’s not enough. We have to then teach the child and the brain what that means.
As surgeons our job is to get the implant in without complications and to make sure we get a full electrode insertion. Then, really, the hard work begins after that.
The audiologists are programming, making sure they get stimulated appropriately and set the levels and all that. It is what they call mapping.
The speech pathologist will have to make sure they take that information and get the right information. Then we have educationalists and we have all the support for the parents.
We meet on a real regular basis. We discuss every patient. We tailor the program for each patient. One of the most important things is after we have implanted a patient we bring them back in for evaluations. We’re assessing whether they’re performing as we would expect them to and if they’re not, we are trying to find out the reasons why.
All the children and adults who have had heard before and then lost hearing, they are simply much quicker in being able to appreciate that. Kids who have never heard,being born deaf, it takes a much longer time because it's really a completely new experience for them.
There is a lot of work that the families have to do with the patient. You don’t just turn it on and the kids instantaneously start talking.
Go to all of these appointments, make all of these things happen and work with the child like all families do. It’s teamwork for this to occur.
Doing Cochlear Implants is without a doubt the most rewarding thing that I get to participate in. The impact that it has on the families and on the child is dramatic.
The true cure of deafness still is waiting to occur, which would someday occur genetically or someway where we are able to regenerate those hair cells. Until that occurs, this is definitely a very good bridge to that. Again, being able to provide enough hearing for the child to develop speech and hearing, that’s a miracle.