Hi, I’m Nick Hamilton. I’m 32 years old and have been wearing hearing aids since I was three. I also have a cochlear implant (CI). So, I’ve been fortunate to have both a hearing aid journey and a cochlear implant journey. For me, these two experiences have complimented each other in many ways. I hope my sharing my experience could be helpful for someone else who might be embarking on a similar journey.
When I was a small child, I was apparently very open and talkative. So, when I began to withdraw and grow quiet around age three and a half, my parents quickly got me in to see a doctor. That’s when my progressive hearing loss was discovered. I was losing hearing at roughly 10 decibel per week at that point, with no explanation as to why it was happening.
My parents immediately began the process of turning over every stone possible, contacting doctors from around the country to set up appointments. Dr. Charles Bluestone in Pittsburgh discovered that I had a fairly unusual condition that would require an experimental surgery to stop the rapid loss of hearing.
Thankfully, his instincts were spot on, and the surgery worked! So, by four years old, I was fitted with hearing aids. I’m forever indebted to my parents, who sacrificed for years to put me through speech therapy, go through rounds of surgery, and endure the ups and downs of guiding a child through these challenges. The hard work they put in allowed me to live a “normal” life and attend mainstream schools, despite what was at the time diagnosed as a moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears.
In that time, I also developed a love of sports—especially baseball. I played collegiately at Kent State University and then professionally with the Cleveland Indians (now the Guardians) organization. It was a dream come true and I’m forever grateful that I had such a great support system with my parents, family, my audiologist Dr. Laura Brady, ENT doctors, and others along the way.
I saw pictures of the implants and cringed at the thought of replacing my tiny Phonak hearing aids with something so noticeable.
However, after my baseball career was over, I began to hear less and less as the years went on. By February of 2020, I was told that I had maxed out what hearing aids could make up for, and it was time to seriously consider cochlear implants.
I admit I was absolutely crushed at first. I had always thought of cochlear implants as the last resort that I was hoping to avoid forever. I feared that the life I had become accustomed to was going to be altered in ways I would never reverse. I saw pictures of the implants and cringed at the thought of replacing my tiny Phonak hearing aids with something so noticeable. I was terrified!
Thankfully, I again had a great support system to help educate and reassure me that this was a step in the right direction. In June of 2020, I received the implant in my right ear. I was fitted three weeks later with my Advanced Bionics sound processor and began the rehab process immediately.
So, here’s the great news: I couldn’t be happier with the decision to get the CI! I have come away extremely impressed with Advanced Bionics’ cutting edge technology as well as their staff. I feel like I was so prepared for this next step in my life thanks to all the information and guidance that was provided by my support system and Advanced Bionics. As a lifelong Phonak client, I knew I could trust that Advanced Bionics would be the right choice. I’ve never heard better, and I can’t wait to get my other ear done, too, when the time is right.
One thing I’ve been surprised with is how active I can continue to be with a CI. I continue to work out or play sports about six days per week. AB allows me to continue my active lifestyle without restriction, something I am very thankful for!
Here’s the important disclaimer: hearing rehab post-implantation is tedious. But I believe it is easily the most important step. As a former athlete who’s been injured a few times, I’ve been through the grind of physical rehabilitation for an orthopedic injury. It’s boring. You sit there doing basic exercises that somehow manage to be challenging and remarkably dry at the same time. However, any athlete will tell you that a proper rehab protocol will make or break your ability to return to previous functioning.
It’s truly a mind game.
CI rehab is incredibly similar. You can have the best surgeon and then the best technology on your ear, and it won’t matter a whole lot if you decide to skip over the work required in the first 90 days after surgery. It’s truly a mind game.
Some days, all the new sounds I was hearing would overwhelm and exhaust me. Other days, the rehab would bore the heck out of me. But after 90 days, I tested at 98% speech understanding with my audiologist. Considering the fact that I was performing in the 30s and 40s with my hearing aids before surgery, the work was totally worth it.
One thing I get asked frequently is “How do you hear with a hearing aid in one ear and an implant in the other?” Hearing with a bimodal fitting—with one hearing aid and one CI—would be really difficult without the help of AB’s Naída sound processor. The hearing aid doesn’t function at the clarity and quality that a CI does for my hearing loss. However, it syncs up to the CI so that my brain can construct a soundscape with input from both of my ears. This syncing has given me better sound direction, quality, and more uniformity in sound. And the best part is that I can stream phone conversations and Bluetooth audio directly into both ears. I work in a field where phone conversations are very important, and I used to dread that part of my job. It’s a huge relief to know I won’t miss anything now when I am not talking face-to-face with someone.
If I had to do it all over again, I really wouldn’t change a thing. It’s hard not to wonder if I was born 100 years ago, how much differently my life would have turned out. Instead of being helpless, today’s technology has allowed me and countless others to live a less restricted life. I feel fortunate to have had this journey to this point, and I hope that my story can help reassure you that you’re not alone!