Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
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Can You Hear Me Now?

Father and son get cochlear implants

By Janet Christenbury

Thirty-five-year-old Randy Adams and his 16-month-old son, Maxwell, have a bond that most other father-son pairs don't share.

They both have genetic defects of the inner ear, leaving Randy nearly deaf and Maxwell completely deaf.

So they are learning how to hear in a different way, together.

Newborn screening identified Maxwell's hearing loss early. At 10 months, he received a cochlear implant—an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. An otolaryngologist, or ENT surgeon, surgically placed electrodes into his inner ear, and he wears an audio processor on his head above his ear to pick up sound. "We make an incision behind the ear and place special electrodes inside the cochlea," says Esther Vivas, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Emory. "The electrodes send electrical signals to the cells in the inner ear, which are transmitted through the cochlear nerve to the brain."

After Maxwell's procedure, Adams learned that he, too, might be a candidate for a cochlear implant. "Randy was very motivated for his son to do well, and the thought of being able to experience what Maxwell was going through motivated his decision to also try the cochlear implant," says Vivas.

Like Adams, more adults are turning to cochlear implants to improve their hearing. In the United States, about 58,000 of the devices have been implanted in adults and 38,000 in children.

hear me now

"Can you hear me?" she asked.
"A little bit, but you have a low voice," said Randy Adams, in sign language.
"So good to hear your voice," he added, as Michelle teared up.

hear me now

In early March, Adams had his device implanted at Emory University Hospital Midtown. After a month, the device was activated. Michelle Adams sat beside her husband at the appointment where his device was turned on for the first time.

As with any new technology, specialists must fine-tune Adams' device, and his brain must learn to make sense of the sounds it is hearing.

"It takes time, and everyone is different in how much benefit they get, and when they get that benefit," says Jenna Frasso, an Emory audiologist.

Adams has spent the past few months adjusting to and experiencing different sounds. He is able to control the levels of sounds he hears with a remote. He has speech therapy once a week, just like Maxwell, and will return for follow-up programming.

Because Maxwell received his cochlear implant before he turned 1, he should have nearly normal speech development. His dad will likely have more difficulty, however, since his implant came later in life.

"Hopefully, with the cochlear implant, things will improve and we'll find a better career and better job opportunities due to improved hearing," said Adams, through an interpreter. "There are many things that limit what deaf people are able to do. So, I'm hoping in the future, I'll be able to do more."

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Related Story:

Father, son share special bond; both receive cochlear implants to improve hearing, speech (4/21/17)

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