Advances Provide a Future Full of Possibilities

November 29, 2016

Thanks to advances in preserving residual hearing, 3-year-old Adam Buresh has awareness of sound even when his processors are turned off.

Making the most of the latest advances in technology and surgical techniques, Lurie Children's Cochlear Implant Program continues to serve a growing number of children—providing improved hearing, quality of life, and a future full of possibility.

Today, implant candidates may have useful hearing of low pitch sounds, but little ability to hear the higher pitch sounds critical to understanding spoken language, especially when background noise is present. Advanced electrode arrays placed into the inner ear with special surgical techniques make it possible to preserve natural lower frequency hearing. New "electro-acoustic" speech processors have hearing aid technology built in to amplify low pitch sounds, while simultaneously providing high pitch hearing with electrical stimulation. The result is children who hear and understand with greater ease.

"In order for children to reap the benefits of this amazing technology, it requires tremendous expertise from the audiologists programming these devices," explains the program's Medical Director, surgeon Nancy M. Young, MD. "Fortunately, Lurie Children's has six experienced pediatric audiologists whose primary role is to evaluate and program implanted children."

Three-year-old Adam Buresh was diagnosed with hearing loss as an infant. "One of our chief concerns initially about cochlear implants was that Adam would not be able to hear anything unless the processors were on and working correctly," says Adam's dad, Chris. "It was a safety issue for us."

Adam received cochlear implants a year and a half ago. He went from 700 to 1,700 vocalizations a day within three months after his implants were activated.

"He began to communicate verbally more than he ever had before," says Chris. "And we were thrilled that he maintained so much residual hearing that he was aware of sounds without the processors. That was a huge blessing for us."

Nine-year-old Hannah Wong experienced progressive hearing loss that was managed with hearing aids until that technology was no longer enough. Before implantation, she was increasingly frustrated because she had to concentrate very hard to hear. Despite that effort, she was still missing much of what her teacher and friends were saying.

"We were told about new technology that helps retain natural hearing, and we knew Dr. Young was doing more of these procedures," says Hannah's dad, Calvin.

Hannah had her first implant in November 2015, and her second this past July. She retained significant lower frequency hearing after each surgery, and was fitted with electro-acoustic processors. Her mom, Beth, says Hannah's progress has been extraordinary.

"She started understanding speech right away, and in less than two months Hannah was up to full comprehension," she says. "It's been really exciting to see how fast she is progressing."

After her first implant, Hannah was listening to music on her iPod one day and told her mom, "I can understand the words now, and I used to just like the beat!"

Calvin says he and Beth were nervous about the surgery. "But the whole process was so smooth, and the retained hearing has been very impressive," he says. "We are so thankful for this technology and for the whole team at Lurie Children's."

Lurie Children's Cochlear Implant Program is supported by the Foundation for Hearing and Speech Rehabilitation.