Advanced Bionics Gave Me Independence

Dec 16, 2021 - Melinda Hayden

I was born hearing, but as a preemie at two pounds, seven ounces. I lost my hearing due to streptomycin I was given around 18 months of age. I was just starting to talk, saying words like “Dada, cookie, bye-bye.” But instead of talking more and more over time, I turned silent. I would press my ear to the TV to hear it. I was growing deaf in a hearing family. 

I have no memory of hearing naturally, only what I heard through hearing aids. But slowly, even that was slipping away from me. My hearing friends gradually watched me stop going to movies, going out, driving at night. I didn’t do much of anything at all except go to work, come home, eat, crash from the exhaustion of straining to hear all day long, and go to bed.

In 2010, I was bluntly told by my audiologist that it was either get a cochlear implant or go silent. I now had a 120+dB loss in both ears—bottoming out the physical limits of the audiometer. Looking back at decades of hearing aid usage, I realized that I was always too deaf for the next generation of hearing aids. I had to wait for hearing aids to be powerful enough for my severity of loss. So when researching cochlear implants, I didn’t want technology to leave me behind. I desperately wanted more than just being able to hear.

I realized that I was always too deaf for the next generation of hearing aids.



Choosing AB

I was on the fence between AB and another company. AB was the only company that reached out to me personally, and introduced me to Margaret Widmer-Kohlberg, another individual who has CIs. I was really impressed that Margaret was implanted with an AB device and was working as a nurse. Margaret settled any doubts I had about going with AB’s technology and assured me that there was room for future growth.

Once I settled on AB, I never looked back. I was implanted in my left ear on October 12, 2010. At my activation appointment, my audiologist said, “we have to force Mindy’s brain to hear through the cochlear implant. So no hearing aid in the right ear for six months.”

It was the hardest hearing journey I have ever undertaken. There were days when nothing I was hearing made any sense. Nevertheless, I dutifully put my Harmony sound processor on every single day at 5:00 in the morning and took it off last thing at night. I was still working long hours, so everyday life was my aural rehab therapy.

Six months later, when I finally put my hearing aid back on, I hated it. It felt like I was hearing through a tunnel and had little “juice.” With my CI, I was hearing all frequencies and hearing more through my “window” of sound. But I didn’t get used to the CI all on my own. My AB community on HearingJourney Chat Nights kept me sane and accountable. They still keep me accountable! 

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Going bilateral

In 2011, I had a minor car accident. No one was hurt, but it shook my confidence as a driver. With only one implant, I felt like one half of my body was missing. I was struggling with overall balance, depth perception, and night driving. I had really wanted to go bilateral (two CIs) from day one, as my mentor Margaret advised, but my insurance didn’t allow it. But now, my audiologist and I agreed it was time to implant my other ear.  

On February 29, 2012, I had my right ear successfully implanted. When the CI was activated in March, my brain immediately recognized the sounds coming from my new implant. It took some time for both ears to sound “balanced,” but I was so happy to hear out of both ears again. I felt safer driving and my sense of balance did actually improve.


“Marvelized”

Fast forward to July 8, 2021. I returned to my CI clinic for a technology upgrade. I chose Sky CI Marvel because I loved the colors! I was extremely nervous and skittish about transitioning from my beloved Harmony processors to Sky CI M with its Bluetooth connectivity and artificial intelligence. But I knew the clock was ticking for my older-generation sound processors, and it was time to move on.  

I am happy to report that I have adapted to Sky CI M like a duck to water. With ten years of cochlear implant hearing memory, I am having fun this time! I love being able to put on the processors and forget about what program I am in because it’s all done automatically. I love the AB Remote app, which shows me the sound processor status and allows me to adjust my devices using my smartphone. No more guessing about rechargeable battery life, or what program I am in! I love the option to use a disposable battery when necessary. And I can’t wait to use my activity kits, which turn the system waterproof so that I can continue to hear at the pool or in the ocean!  

I’ve come to love the Bluetooth feature, which at first, I was skeptical of. It’s so cool to have voice directions from Apple Maps streamed to both ears when I’m driving! And listening to music through Bluetooth streaming is simply mind-blowing. I find myself listening to podcasts and doing auditory verbal therapy again because of this feature. 

I hear far better with my new Sky CI M than I ever did with hearing aids, or even my old Harmony processors. In fact, I can now understand speech in my right ear, something I could never do with a hearing aid. My left ear is still my dominant ear, but with the Marvel technology, I feel balanced in my hearing.


Freedom

With cochlear implants, I realized for the first time that everything has a sound, even rocks! Hard candy makes a sound when it’s dropped! I can hear emergency sirens from miles away now instead of only when the emergency vehicle is on top of my bumper. I can hear bird song. I can tell a cardinal from a robin from a mourning dove, from geese or an owl.

Hard candy makes a sound when it’s dropped!

With cochlear implant processors, I went from zero to 30%-60% speech comprehension. I am still a visual person and will always lipread, but the difference is that I don’t have to strain to hear or understand anymore. During this pandemic with everyone wearing masks, I wouldn’t have been able to understand speech at all had I still been wearing hearing aids. 

I am so glad I chose Advanced Bionics for its technology. AB has given me a world of hearing that I never knew existed, and it has never left me behind as its technology improved, as hearing aids did so long ago. I constantly talk about my life “before cochlear implants, and after cochlear implants.” I am a fiercely independent person, and AB’s cochlear implants have given me freedom--freedom to hear as I choose!

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