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Hybrid cochlear implant tested in San Antonio

Patients hear sounds for the first time in decades

SAN ANTONIO – Jennifer Shearrer’s son is whistling and she is crying in the examination room at the Ear Institute of Texas. 

Her doctor just finished tweaking her new hybrid cochlear implant and when it’s switched on, she can hear high-pitched sounds for the first time since she was a child.

“Okay, now you have to stop,” Shearrer laughs through the tears, noting that the sound is not sweet to her ears. 

It’s part of the learning process between her brain and her ear that needs to be trained to accept the noises.  Currently it sounds like shrieking, as do so many sounds she had forgotten.

The 34-year old woman did not qualify as a full cochlear implant patient because her hearing of low-pitched sounds was adequate with just a hearing aid.  However she totally lost the other end of the register and was having difficulty functioning in her job as a nurse.

Dr. Lance Jackson at the Ear Institute of Texas is the only Texas doctor in a post-Food and Drug Administration approval trial of the device. Jackson said the patients who benefit are different from regular cochlear patients.

"They are getting some benefit from their hearing aid, but they are not getting the high-frequency range. The consonant sounds. The S, T, F and they still have trouble distinguishing words," he said.

The surgery is also similar. Patients must recover from any risk of trauma or infection for one month before the implant is activated.  Afterward, there is a conditioning process to begin the job of the brain accepting the sounds.

For more information on the new implant, click here.