What is a Cochlear Implant?
A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that provides a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard of hearing. It is often called the "bionic ear". The basic device consists of 2 parts: internal and external.
Here is what we know as parents:
Average surgery time is about 3 hours. A small incision into the skin will be made behind the ear. A "pocket" is created in his skull bone to "hold" the implant. This will allow for a flat appearance of the skin on the outside, no bulge. The implant will be inserted, and the electrode array will be run into the cochlea. (The array looks like thick sturdy fishing wire with a small loop on the end). The cochlear is shaped like a snail, so it will be wound around until the loop is in the middle. The internal device has a magnet inside of it. Since the implant is covered in silicone, the moisture cannot reach the device itself.
A few weeks after the surgery, the external piece comes into play. This is when a recipient of an implant actually hears. The audiologist will position the coil (which has another magnet) over the internal implant and given the two magnets-the coil should "stick" on the head to the other magnet on the other side of the skin. This is how the coil stays in place. The coil will be attached to the cable, which is connected to the processor. The audiologist will activate the implant. They will start with soft levels of sound, and begin mapping. (Mapping will be explained in a different post). We will be given a program, that will increase sound levels day by day. It takes quite a while to get the implant programmed "just right." The illustration above shows the BTE (behind the ear) processor, but since AJ is still so small, we will probably have body-worn processor first and then transition to BTE. Depending on which implant we choose, the style may be a tad different than above, but they are all basically the same in shape.
A cochlear implant does not cure deafness. It is a prosthetic device to enable hearing. AJ will not wear his CI while sleeping or swimming. We will still have to consider what to do in the event of a fire (he won't hear the smoke detector) and other similiar situations. Research is showing the benefits of bilateral cochlear implants. While we are in the process for one at the moment, we hope that a second implant is in his future as well.