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91 My Experiences as a Cochlear Implant User Cochlear Implants In the late 1990s, I began paying more attention to the growing popularity of cochlear implants. I was looking for something interesting to write about, and since cochlear implantation was (and still is) a controversial topic in the Deaf community, I thought that others might be curious about how this relatively new technology worked and who was using and benefiting from it. Initially, my interest in implants­ centered on the parents of children who were using the device. Why were parents getting cochlear implants for their young children? How did parents become aware of cochlear implants? What did they expect the implant to do for their children? How has it changed their lives and the life of their children? How has the device made a difference in terms of educational and communication choices for their children? Cochlear implants are designed to help people hear, especially those who get little or no benefit from hearing aids. Implants have been around in one form or another since the first modern attempt to Main_2 Pgs 89-172.indd 91 11/11/2010 12:41:27 PM 92 Reflections The Advanced Bionics Harmony behind-the-ear cochlear implant. This is the external portion of the implant. Copyright 2010 Advanced Bionics Corporation. Reprinted with permission. Cross section of the ear showing the internal and some of the external parts of the cochlear implant. Copyright 2010 Advanced Bionics Corporation. Reprinted with permission. Main_2 Pgs 89-172.indd 92 11/11/2010 12:41:28 PM My Experiences as a Cochlear Implant User 93­ electrically stimulate the auditory (hearing) nerve took place in France in the late 1950s. A few adults and children underwent experimental cochlear implant surgery during the next quarter-century, but not until 1984 did the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve an implant for use in deaf adults. Six years later, the FDA approved­ cochlear implants for use in deaf children from two to seventeen years of age. In 2000, the FDA approved cochlear implantation in the United States for children as young as twelve months.1 In fact, many children younger than twelve months old (in the United States and abroad) are now receiving implants. Moreover, many deaf children, as well as many adults, are now getting two implants. A cochlear implant consists of two basic components: Internal parts, which are surgically implanted, and external parts, which together usually look like a behind-the-ear (BTE) hearing aid. The external parts of the implant include a battery, one or two small microphones, a microcomputer , a quarter-sized headpiece that magnetically attaches to an internal receiver, and a short wire that connects the headpiece to the microcomputer as shown in the first illustration on the previous page. The internal components consist of the receiver (“implant” in the second illustration), and a several-inch-long wirelike electrode array that runs from the receiver to the cochlea. Sounds picked up by the microphones are converted into digital information by the microcomputer and instantaneously transmitted via radio waves to the internal receiver and then along the electrode array. The end of the array is inserted into the tiny, pea-sized, fluid-filled cochlea. Ideally, at the end of this process, the auditory nerve fibers in the cochlea are stimulated by the electrical current, and the auditory (hearing) nerve, which runs from the cochlea to the cortex of the brain, is able to transmit sounds to the brain. Cochlear Implant Research Gallaudet University’s research institute (Gallaudet Research Institute, GRI) has an in-house grant program to support research that reflects priorities set by the university. Among the priorities in the late 1990s Main_2 Pgs 89-172.indd 93 11/11/2010 12:41:28 PM 94 Reflections were such things as recruitment and retention as well as technologies that could benefit deaf and hard of hearing people. My research interests fit reasonably well into these categories, and I was able to secure the funds necessary to get started. Successful research is primarily the result of a lot of hard work, but it can also be the result of some good luck, and I was particularly lucky in several important ways. First, at the time I applied for the funding, Lisa Holden‑Pitt, a researcher at GRI, was preparing a lengthy questionnaire dealing with many of these same issues. This questionnaire, “Survey of Parents of Pediatric Implantees,” was distributed to more than 1,800 families...


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