A Great Story – MIT Style

I made a last minute decision to attend MIT’s Diversity Summit today (1/19/12).  The early part of the day had panel discussions with faculty and students.  In the audience was a broad spectrum of people from across the MIT community, students, staff, faculty.

During a break I chatted with a staff person from the central HR group, whose job includes a focus on disability issues.  Since I thought he might be interested, I mentioned that I was planning to get a cochlear implant soon.

The morning’s activities were wrapping up and people were milling about engaged in conversation.  The staff person from HR approached me and said, “You have to meet this guy.  You have to meet him!”  He then introduced me to a distinguished Professor Emeritus named Nelson Yuan –Sheng Kiang.  Professor Kiang’s research and work made possible the cochlear implant’s success.  In addition, he is the founder of the Eaton Peabody Research Lab at Mass Eye and Ear Infirmary.  I was delighted and awed to meet him.  When I mentioned my scheduled implant surgery he asked the name of my surgeon.  “Oh yes!” he replied “She was one of my students.”

Wow.  Wow.

Okay, I have a confession to make.  In my excitement over meeting Professor Kiang, I gave him a hug.  Now this may not have been entirely welcome, but I hope he forgives me.  I was honestly so excited that I couldn’t help myself.  What a great and unexpected sequence of events.

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Scheduling Surgery – Part I

I receive a letter from the surgeon’s secretary.  There is a type written sticky note attached.  Wait!  There is a typewriter in use at MEEI?!  Please tell me this is in no way indicates the level of sophistication of the facilities there.  Are the lights in the OR pedal powered?!

The sticky note says that I should call 617-NNN-NNNN to schedule the surgery.  Okay.  Problem number two.  If I were able to easily make a phone call, chances are, I would not need a cochlear implant :-}

I have a number of suggestions for MEEI to improve the patient experience.  I really do.  And I’m standing by for their call (ha, ha).

What is a Cochlear Implant Anyway?

Brief 2 minute video explanation on YouTube:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmNpP2fr57A

I thought the following was a pretty good, succinct definition of cochlear implants:

“The cochlear implant is a prosthetic replacement for the inner ear or cochlea. The cochlear implant is surgically implanted in the skull behind the ear and electronically stimulates the nerve of hearing with small wires touching the cochlea.

External parts of the device includes a microphone, a speech processor (for converting sounds into electrical impulses), connecting cables, and a battery. Unlike a hearing aid, which just makes sounds louder, this invention selects information in the speech signal and then produces a pattern of electrical pulses in the patient’s ear. It is impossible to make sounds completely natural, because a limited amount of electrodes are replacing the function of tens of thousands of hair cells in a normally hearing ear.” http://inventors.about.com/od/hstartinventions/a/deaf_4.htm

cochlear implant internal and external components graphic

For some background on the history and research involved in cochlear implants: http://bit.ly/ylq9xY

The Decision

After reviewing as much information as I could tolerate and absorb, or at least try to absorb, I decide to go with an Advanced Bionics device.  The surgeon said all the devices are excellent and that you really can’t choose badly.  However, it’s still such a daunting decision considering it’s for life!

The factors that influenced my decision were:

  •  My brother, who has bi-lateral implants, has an AB device and a Med-El.  While there are things he likes about the Med-El implant, he says for him the AB seems to work better.  Since my hearing loss has followed a similar trajectory as my brother’s I’m hoping this will be my experience also.
  •  Most implant users I’ve met in the Boston area have Advanced Bionics devices and are very happy with them.  There is also a local chapter of BEA, Bionic Ear Association, sponsored by Advanced Bionics.  The last time they met was at a local YMCA walking distance from my house.
  • Mass Eye and Ear audiologists have a lot of experience with Advanced Bionics equipment and software (aka mapping).