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London Health Sciences Centre is one of only five hospitals in Ontario that offers a Cochlear Implant Program and the only one that provides implants to both adults and children.
"Our cochlear implant program provides an invaluable service to patients with severe hearing loss," said Dr. Lorne Parnes, otolaryngologist at LHSC and medical/surgical director of the program. "Approximately 35 patients a year at LHSC are fitted with a cochlear implant which, in most cases, helps to dramatically improve hearing."
A cochlear implant is an electronic device surgically implanted in order to provide the sense of sound to a person who is deaf or hard of hearing. It does not amplify sound like a regular hearing aid. Instead, the implant directly stimulates any functioning auditory nerves inside the cochlea with electrical impulses. External components of the cochlear implant include a microphone, speech processor and transmitter which allow the wearer to adjust the sound for quality and amplification.
Ximena Olave, age 41, was fitted with an implant in the fall of 2007.
"Before the surgery, I had trouble hearing music, television, the ring of a telephone or the sound of an alarm clock. I could not hear people who spoke softly and I was limited as to what I could study in college," said Olave.
"What I am most happy about now is that I can talk to others for myself," continues Olave. "Before the cochlear implant, my daughter would answer for me if I didn't hear people speaking which is a lot of responsibility for an eight-year old child. Now she is happy for me and loves to tell others how she doesn't have to answer for me and how I can hear her when I am in the kitchen and she is in her room".
Asked what her favourite sound is, Olave replies "My daughter's voice and my own – they are so different now and so clear! Also, it is wonderful when I am taking our dog for a walk I can hear the birds and how their sounds are different depending on the type of bird."
Surgery to implant a cochlear device typically takes two-to-three hours. The follow-up after surgery, however, is much more time-intensive and involves a life-time commitment from patients. Patients return to the program approximately five times in the first six months to have their device reprogrammed. Afterwards, they are seen every six months to a year to ensure their programming is adequate and their equipment is in good working order.
The Cochlear Implant Program at LHSC employs two full-time audiologists and is supported by a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals including a psychologist, a psychometrist, a social worker, a psychiatrist and a child-life specialist.
London Health Sciences Centre implanted their first cochlear device in an adult patient in 1987 with research funding and, in 1989, was the first Ontario centre to perform a paediatric implant. In 1993, the Ministry of Health provided designated funding for the Cochlear Implant Program, enabling it to provide cochlear implantation to a greater number of patients in the community. The Cochlear Implant Program at LHSC primarily serves southwestern Ontario but also provides service to patients from as far away as Owen Sound and Thunder Bay. The program is now involved in a multi-centre trial assessing the efficacy of bilateral implants in young children.
Cochlear implant recipient Ximena Olave is looking forward to an upcoming vacation to Chile. While it is not the first time she has flown, she is excited to have the experience of what it sounds like to fly in an airplane.
"I am glad I made the decision to have the implant and I am very thankful to Dr. Lorne Parnes and to Kim Zimmerman at LHSC who have made my life so much better in so many ways," said Olave.
Cochlear implant specialist Kim Zimmerman (left) adjusts external components on Ximena Olave’s new cochlear implant as Ximena’s daughter Stella watches.