Tony Roberts knows exactly how isolating it can be to live with a hearing impairment.
Roberts lost nearly all of his hearing following a motorcycle accident when he was a teenager. For three decades, he lived in his “own little world”—afraid to venture out into crowds, forced to rely on family or friends to help him complete business deals and tired of constantly asking people to repeat themselves.
But at a picnic attended by roughly 200 University of Minnesota Health Cochlear Implant Program patients and family members, Roberts was jovial and talkative. Several years ago he received two cochlear implants (CIs) during a pair of procedures at the University of Minnesota Medical Center. The operation dramatically improved his hearing—and changed the way he interacted with the world.
“You block off a lot of the world [when you’re hearing impaired]. But once you get the cochlear implant, there’s the world, all over again,” he said.
Cochlear implants are electronic devices that provide some degree of hearing in severely to profoundly hard-of-hearing people by transmitting electrical impulses directly to the auditory nerve. Unlike hearing aids, they do not amplify existing sound. A cochlear implant is made up of components that a surgeon implants in the ear and a piece worn externally.
Roughly 1,000 patients throughout the Midwest have received care through the University of Minnesota Health Cochlear Implant Program, and the program has a national reputation for superior patient outcomes. The program provides comprehensive evaluation for patients considering an implant, counseling before surgery, surgical implantation, and rehabilitation and support activities.
The annual Cochlear Implant Celebration Picnic, sponsored by the Lions Multiple District 5M Hearing Foundation, the University of Minnesota Health Cochlear Implant Program and the Lions Children’s Hearing & ENT Clinic is just one opportunity for pre- or post-surgery patients to mingle.
“I think it’s an important thing to offer, because there are a lot of people with cochlear implants or families of children with cochlear implants, who don’t know others going through a similar experience,” said Dianna Hart, a University of Minnesota Health doctor of audiology.
That’s why Kristin Erb and her 7-year-old daughter Aubrey attended the picnic on Sunday, Sept. 7. When she was a toddler, Aubrey was diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder, which led to significant hearing loss. Following surgeries to place two cochlear implants, Aubrey's ability to speak, hear and participate in activities grew tremendously, Kristin said.
“Aubrey is surrounded now by people who don’t wear hearing aids and implants,” Erb said. “It’s just that comfort of knowing that there are other people like her, going through the same things she is experiencing.”