Cochlear implants are devices which can literally give hearing back to the deaf. They consist of two parts, a tiny surgically-implanted receiver, and an external processor, worn behind the ear on the outside of the head, which communicate across the skin. Cochlear implants are nothing less than a “miracle of modern medicine”, as hearing is the first one of the five human senses to be successfully reproduced by technology.
Cochlear implants have been FDA-approved in the United States since 1984 for profound deafness in adults and children, and hundreds of thousands have been performed worldwide in the last thirty years. If a deaf infant receives a cochlear implant, that infant can grow up with completely normal speech and language development. However, the implants were felt to only be appropriate for patients who were deaf in BOTH ears….until recently.
This is because it was believed that if a person had at least one normally-hearing ear, that they could “get by” well enough, even if they struggled in situations like background noise. Additionally, the sound quality of a cochlear implant is significantly different than normal hearing, and until recently, it was felt that a person with normal hearing in one ear would not like the sound quality of a “bionic” ear. Also, the devices are very expensive, in the neighborhood of $30,000-$40,000 each, and thus it was felt that they were most appropriate for those who were deaf in both ears.
But what about patients with deafness in only one ear, called “single sided deafness”, or SSD? Until recently, there was no good way to help them. Fortunately, technology has evolved to the point where cochlear implants are now being performed for patients with SSD. Several european countries are already performing such surgeries, with very promising results. Cochlear implants are not yet covered by insurance in the United States for patients with SSD, but some individuals have elected to pay for the devices out of pocket in order to have their hearing restored.
Mr. Fahad Khan is a 41 year-old father of four children from Lahore, Pakistan, who had a sudden hearing loss in his right ear in November 2013. This is a disorder where hearing suddenly goes away for no apparent reason, usually in one ear only. Tests were unable to determine the cause, but it is believed that most such incidents are caused by viruses or a buildup of pressure inside the inner ear. Despite treatment, Mr. Khan’s hearing did not improve, and he became permanently deaf in his right ear.
Mr. Khan’s search for a solution led him to the Shea Ear Clinic in Memphis, where Dr. Paul Shea performed the first cochlear implant in the Mid-South on a patient with SSD. Mr. Khan underwent the surgery on June 17th, 2014, at the Shea Ear Clinic. After a month of healing, he will have his implant “activated” on July 14th, 2014, by an audiologist at the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf. This is a highly significant event for Mr. Khan and thousands of patients with SSD, and another medical milestone happening right here in Memphis.