Through a partnership between UC Health and the Hearing Speech & Deaf Center of Greater Cincinnati (HSDC), local patients with cochlear implants have a place to gather and share their experiences with the device.
Initiated 8 years ago when otolaryngologist Ravi Samy, MD, came to Cincinnati to direct UC Health’s adult cochlear implant program, the Cochlear Implant Support Group now comprises 20 to 30 cochlear implant patients and their spouses who meet quarterly to share their experiences and learn from device manufacturers and health care professionals.
"It’s a win-win,” says UC Health audiologist Lisa Houston, AuD. "It creates a bridge between the two programs in the community. For patients, it’s a non-threatening environment to ask questions they may have been afraid to ask their doctor.”
The Patient Experience
Brian Gallat’s first visited the group after receiving a cochlear implant in March 2011. He underwent surgery to implant his second device in September of that year.
Used for patients with moderate to severe to profound hearing loss, a cochlear implant is a small electronic device surgically implanted in the inner ear and activated by a device worn outside the ear. By bypassing the damaged portions of the ear, the implant can send sound signals directly to the wearer’s auditory nerve and the brain.
Gallat made the switch to cochlear implants after using conventional hearing aids for most of his life. He used his first hearing aid in kindergarten, after being born with approximately 70 percent hearing loss.
But by 2011, he said, "it became obvious to me that my hearing was terrible. I had absolutely nothing to lose with an implant.”
Gallat first attended the group to talk with other members about what to expect once his device was turned on.
"I was hoping it was going to be good,” he says, "but I really didn’t know how the implant would turn out. When they turned it on, I remember Lisa was talking to me and I was reading her lips and hearing the sounds—just the way I was able to do it with my hearing aid. The sound made sense right away.”
He was able to learn more about his new device in the support group meetings
"You learn about things that you’d never think to ask of your audiologist,” he says. "You begin to understand how you can help yourself even more with the implant.”
Two years after his surgeries, Gallat regularly attends support group meetings, helps with presentations on device accessories and talks with new recipients.
"There’s a great social benefit to the group,” he says. "You get to talk to people who have cochlear implants and their spouses—and the doctors, the speech pathologists and the audiologists, they all help other people without expecting something in return. They are a warm and uplifting group of people to be around. There are people who don’t have as much access to information as we have here in Cincinnati.”
A Rewarding Local Partnership
With cochlear implant surgeries performed at UC Health, the Cincinnati Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Samy estimates Cincinnati is one of the top areas of the nation for cochlear implants in terms of volume.
Although the devices have been in use for over 25 years now, he says he was shocked by the lack of information—or misinformation—about them in the public. As a result, he said "when patients were implanted, they didn’t have anyone else to go to or talk to. That’s when we started to get involved with the Hearing, Speech, and Deaf Center.”
Both Samy and Houston remark that this is truly a unique and rewarding relationship—not common to other centers in the country or region.
Jennifer Dively, AuD, CCC-A, audiology program manager at the Hearing, Speech and Deaf Center. –"It’s just amazing to see a community come together and to be able to share their experiences—users, people who are considering an implant, and their families members, too. It’s a wonderful group to work with and we’re thrilled to be a part of it.”