Gary’s Story: My Experience with Oticon Medical Neuro 2 Cochlear Implants

Gary’s Story: My Experience with Oticon Medical Neuro 2 Cochlear Implants

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Gary B. recently shared his journey to becoming a bilateral Neuro 2 CI wearer with the goal of encouraging others to take the next step in treating their hearing loss.

I first realized my hearing issues were interfering with my life when I noticed ringing in my ears after long hours in an industrial setting in my 20s. I noticed a significant hearing loss in my early 30s, and it was affecting my personal life, with my wife in particular, and other social situations to a lesser degree.

The first hearing aids I purchased was in my early 40s. In total I spent about $20,000 on hearing aids myself before I ever approached Workers’ Compensation for coverage. Late in my work career it became evident to me and those I had to deal with that I could no longer use a phone to communicate or communicate well in situations where I could not work face-to-face with a person.

While still working for my previous employer, the general manager told me about cochlear implants, and about one of our employees at another location whose wife had gotten implants and the improvements that she experienced. That got me started researching CIs. I talked to the people who provided my hearing aids and did the tuning, but they always tried to have me use more powerful hearing aids and did not agree that I should pursue implants. My family doctor set up an appointment for me in the summer of 2017 at the University Hospital for an evaluation for CIs.

Once it was determined that I was a candidate for implants, the audiologist who I was working with told me it would be about two years waiting time for the surgery for the first ear. At that time, she told me that Oticon Medical was in the process of setting up a trial in Canada for their implant products. She included information about what would be expected if I was chosen to be a participant. She asked if I would be interested. I told her that if she could give me a week, I would research Oticon Medical and get back to her. Within a week I told her that I was definitely interested and would be glad to participate. The only thing I requested was that my name stay on the surgery list so that I could get my second implant without having to wait an extra period of time.   

Preparing for cochlear implant surgery

I did not have many people who I could talk to other than the audiologist about the process, so I did a lot of research online. I watched several videos of the actual surgery and listened to stories from people who’d had the surgery, so I was very comfortable with what was coming. The first ear surgery was done in Saskatoon on an outpatient basis, so it was very convenient that way. I was able to travel the day before to Saskatoon, have the surgery the next morning, and head home that afternoon. The only problem that I experienced on that day was on the way home—the wound started to bleed, but I was able to control it by applying light pressure. There was very little pain. I don’t have a low pain threshold, so it was pretty easy for me.  I did not have to take painkillers or sleep aids

I was a little nervous that day. I had high expectations that everything would go well. The first thing I heard was my audiologist, asking if I heard anything. Indeed, I did hear. The sound was unclear and a little fuzzy but was supported at that time by the second hearing aid still in place. At that time, with the Oticon Medical representative’s direction, my audiologist began to make some changes. By the end of the session I was able to hear nearly as well as with my hearing aids.  I continued to notice improvement over the course of the month.

Family support during the CI adaptation process

I had prepared my family and friends for most outcomes before I had the surgery, so they were well-prepared, and the expectations were pretty much in check. Even at that, most everyone was surprised that I could carry on a conversation as well or better than before the implant. Everyone without exception was surprised that this implant technology could produce such amazing results.  At this point, many understood that this was just a beginning, and aware that this was a life-altering change for me and them.

My wife, Donna, was instrumental in helping me adapt to my CIs — “a lot” would be a summary of the scantest proportions! When the time came for me to learn how to hear again, especially between implant settings modifications, she was always patient with me as I continued to make hearing errors. 

It was also during these periods where she helped me with things like TigerSpeech. Donna would test me to see what I heard by often following the software and seeing what I was getting right before moving on. I think this was one of the most critical contributors to the success that I have had. By being able to always continue to talk, rather than stay silent while I was learning, she allowed me to learn without fear of backlash for the mistakes I was making.

(Editor’s Note: We asked Gary’s wife to share her perspective on how life with Gary changed after he got his cochlear implants. The following is her response).

Life for the twenty years or more before getting a cochlear implant was very difficult for both of us. Gary avoided conversation if he could because we would end up arguing a lot of times. Often, he hadn’t heard what I said so would give an answer that had nothing to do with my question. That was always my clue that he hadn’t heard the question. He quit listening to music when I was around because the volume needed to be so loud that I could not function. I always had to be looking at his face when talking to him. He had been lip reading for a lot of years. Going to restaurants was not a pleasant experience because there was always lots of background noise, which rendered conversation very difficult. He could not talk on the telephone to anyone. I always had to be his ears and felt bad for him. 

Now, life after the cochlear implant is a complete 180. And that is nothing but good! In the early days, right after the operations, Gary used his lip reading skills a lot. He did his homework with the computer programs that were provided, and we just plain did a lot of talking. Now he can hear me talking on the phone in another room of our home! And he can talk on the telephone without me by his side. That itself was very rewarding to see and hear. He has a life again! He listens to music again and we go to restaurants and that is a pleasant experience. We have a new outlook on life and look forward to the future!

On upgrading to the latest Neuro technology

Since I originally started with Neuro 1’s there were smaller differences than starting with Neuro 2 right from the start. I noticed that the implant had a better processing ability. Groups were much easier to deal with and music became much more recognizable and enjoyable. It was at this point that I found  closed captions were not required because I picked up almost everything. With the original implant processors the closed captions were still handy in some situations. For all other situations, Neuro 2 was just another positive step forward and I often heard from others that, “I can’t believe I don’t have to talk to your face anymore” or “You hear things that I don’t”. Another thing with the Neuro 2 is that I very rarely need to adjust the volume up or down.

Besides what I already mentioned above, here is a story of what I was able to do that I know I could not have done with the Neuro 1 implants: During the last federal election, I worked both the advanced polls and the election day polls. I had to deal with more than 350 people per day.  I did all that without having to ask for repeats from the electors. Even people with heavy accents I was able to handle with relative ease. The supervisor who oversaw multiple Returning Officers was very impressed. On Election Day, I worked as a Deputy Returning Officer, whose role was the vote distribution and collection. Again, I never had any problems. All of this would have been absolutely impossible with hearing aids and very difficult with my Neuro 1 implants.

Based on my experience, I would 100% recommend others with the need get Neuro 2 CIs.  I can’t emphasize enough how impressive they are. My advice and tips for potential Neuro 2 wearers are as follows:

  1. Get the shortest cable between the processor and antenna that will work.  They get in the way if they are long and have a higher tendency to wear out.  I guess they are less noticeable as well. 
  2. Rather than struggle with a hearing problem, contact your doctor and get some help.  This goes for all kinds of hearing devices. 
  3. The processor and battery are very light so you need to take time to get used to them because they can shake off your head. 
  4. Be very careful when in proximity to metal. The magnets are strong and the whole device will come off your head. That happened to me once when getting in our truck, which was white, and the ground was covered in white snow. When the assembly came off, I thought it was in the snow and looked high and low to find it. When I gave up and was getting back in the truck, I found it hooked on the upper window frame in the truck. 
  5. Don’t be afraid to go into situations that might be uncomfortable. This is an area where you can really learn how well you can hear and where you can’t. This can be used to communicate the tuning issues you would like to see fixed and why. 
  6. I mentioned the importance of my wife above, but one thing that may be even more important, especially for those who don’t have support, is the audiologist who they would be working with. My audiologist was everything that anyone could ask for while going through this process. She was always helpful and attentive and very often went well out of her way to help me.
  7. Practice, practice, practice! There are no miracles beyond the technology without work on the part of the user.

I strive to share my experience with anyone who has questions about implants. Sometimes this can get very funny. We were staying in the Phoenix area the year I had my first implant. We were at a restaurant, sitting outside where there were fewer people and very nice weather. A woman about three tables away piped up, and out of nowhere asked, “What the hell is that on your head?” After I stopped laughing, I explained what it was, why it was there, and a little bit about how it worked.  Some may feel some embarrassment having people stare or ask these questions, but I have never found that to be a problem and share my experience with anyone who asks.

Final thoughts on working with Oticon Medical

As I mentioned before, I researched Oticon Medical before agreeing to the study, so I knew quite a bit about the history and the vision that the company had. Since getting the implants and going into the study my impressions have only strengthened about Oticon Medical being a great company. Until recently, I have obtained service and parts from the U of S Audiology Department, but I have been in contact with the Oticon Medical Client Services Specialist and she has been great to work with.

I was lucky to be involved with the Oticon Medical study because of the attention I received. I know that it meant many other trips to Saskatoon, but I learned a lot more than most people would. The people who I worked with from Oticon Medical were always very good. They were very knowledgeable, always approachable and patient. When I needed anything from them the response was quick and friendly. I never lacked for support from Oticon Medical and I felt it was always there if I needed it.

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