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Surgery offers sound to a man plunged into a life of silence

MED-EL Auditory Brainstem Implant (ABI) – Ground breaking surgery in New Zealand - Offering sound to a man plunged into a life of silence

“My hearing loss was not sudden but frighteningly rapid,” explains Colin Anderson, whose life changed forever 8 years ago when he completely lost his hearing after complications following a routine Arthroscopy in 2007.

Colin goes on to describe the moment he began losing his hearing, “I remember I was boarding a plane, I phoned my wife Carmen and said, I’m crashing, something is going wrong with my hearing.” Within 3 months he was completely deaf. “Wearing hearing aids I could feel the sound vibrations through my feet but no sound,” Colin revealed.

Cochlear implants briefly gave Colin access to sound, but this rapidly faded also.

The turning point came when Colin’s Neurotologist Dr. Michel Neeff (Paediatric and Adult ENT Surgeon and Director of ENT Associates in Auckland), supported his final attempt to regain access to sound. Colin underwent his final surgery in Auckland in March 2014 where he was implanted with the MED-EL Auditory Brainstem Implant (ABI) making him the first person to undergo such a procedure in New Zealand.

The local team of medical specialists were joined by world renowned medical expert from Germany (Prof Behr) for this five hour surgery. The ABI is suitable for patients whose auditory nerves have been irreversibly damaged. Bypassing both the inner ear and the auditory nerve, the MED-EL ABI stimulates the cochlear nucleus of the brainstem and provides users with a variety of hearing sensations to assist with sound awareness and communications.

The term “Switch On” is familiar to many due to the success and increase in media coverage of the MED-EL Cochlear Implant. The MED-EL ABI device follows the same procedure where each electrode is switched on individually to measure the pitch and quality of sound being received. Colin describes the moment he was able to access sound again.

“My very first electrode activated was so clear and perfect of “sound” it was amazing,” he goes on to say, “It just happened while I was lying on the bed, voices, beautiful voices, everyone in the room had their own special voice, I just wanted to keep on listening.” Dr. Neeff was thrilled with the outcomes. “It was amazing seeing Colin and Carmen’s faces relax, after years of bad news.”

Colin shared some special moments, “When I first heard my children earlier this year, their voices did not match the memories I had of them 6-7 years ago. My son now has a deep man’s voice. Colin also explains the impact the complete hearing loss had on the relationship with his wife Carmen; “I missed Carmen’s funny quotes, her way with words, her companionship, our laughing together. With complete and sudden deafness came an almost rudimentary sort (of communication) – (one of) pen and paper and learning to speech read, but how to communicate what we really meant from our hearts?”

Dr. Neeff highlighted the importance of such a procedure and how it can change lives forever. Accessing sound and being able to lead lives rich with relationships filled with communication and connection is what it is all about. This device offers hope to those who may have lost their hearing unexpectedly and who will not benefit from other technologies such as cochlear implants or hearing aids.


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