TALLMADGE, Ohio – You’d never know Tallmadge High School senior and varsity soccer player Cameron Kennell experiences hearing loss.
The 17-year-old was diagnosed with Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome at 7 months after failing three newborn hearing tests, said his mom, Samantha Kennell.
“His dad and I made the decision to get the implants as soon as possible to get early access to sound via cochlear implants and get training started,” Samantha Kennell said.
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or hard of hearing. The implant consists of two parts: an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion surgically placed under the skin, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.
Implants do not restore hearing, instead, they offer a person who is profoundly deaf a representation of sounds to help them understand speech. Cochlear implants differ from hearing aids, which work by amplifying sounds. Cochlear implants work by bypassing damaged parts of the ear and stimulating the auditory nerve directly, according to Shelley Duncan, an audiologist at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Cameron’s surgeries were performed at Cleveland Clinic in 2006 and 2007. He had some side effects, so he had to stay at the hospital for two nights after the first procedure and one night following the second, Kennell said.
“He had some balance issues and nausea after he got home, but it didn’t take him that long to bounce back,” she said.
After the surgery, Cameron had numerous appointments with hearing professionals to help him learn how to interpret the sounds he was hearing.
“The follow-up care in the beginning was a lot because of mappings and adjusting,” she said.
At Tallmadge High, Cameron is a center back and center/defensive on the soccer team. He’s finishing his senior year and working part time at a local hardware store. He is considering going to college to study business or working in real estate or ecommerce, he said.
“Having the implants has allowed him to communicate with friends and teachers, listen and follow directions and be as normal a kid as possible,” Kennell said.
Cameron has had his device processors updated twice in the past 15 years, which does not require surgery. Individuals with cochlear implants are eligible for processor upgrades every five year as the technology improves, Duncan said.
“The only limitation is that when it’s raining I can’t play soccer. It’s also hard to hear sounds a long distance away,” Cameron said.
“The results of cochlear implant technology can vary based on the patient, but for many patients the ability to pick up direction of sounds and even quiet sounds is excellent,” Duncan said.
She estimates only 2-13% of individuals who might benefit from implant technology actually get it. Implants can also work well for older adults, Duncan said.
“In general, if you are healthy enough for surgery, implants should be talked about as an option,” she said.
How well the devices work depends on several factors, according to Duncan. Individuals who have had good hearing for most of their life are more likely to benefit from the technology. It’s also important for a person who gets the implants to wear them during all waking hours.
“We hear with our brain and our ears are just the way in,” Duncan said. “When people are only hearing on a part-time basis the brain has a hard time adjusting to sound.”
Thanks to improvements in surgical technology, the procedure to install the implants can now be done with less damage to soft tissue, which can help preserve some hearing after surgery. Recent technology innovations include being able to stream sound directly to the implant via Bluetooth technology and water-resistant accessories for the external processor. Innovations in rehabilitation have also made it easier for patients who have the implant to make sense of the sounds around them, Duncan said.
“It’s a personal choice.” Kennell said. “This world is based on hearing. The earlier you get the technology the better the sound is able to stimulate the brain.”
“It’s a great technology that isn’t well known or understood in the general population,” Duncan said. “You don’t have to be deaf to benefit from the technology.”
Individuals who are interested in learning more about cochlear implants can visit the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website or schedule an appointment with a hearing health professional.
Want more Akron news? Sign up for cleveland.com’s Rubber City Updatean email newsletter delivered at 5:30 am Wednesdays.