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FDA-Approved Hybrid Cochlear Implants Help Hearing Patients Understand Sound

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After decades of struggling to hear, a woman gets the gift of clear sound thanks to a new FDA-approved device that could help many with partial hearing loss. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Karyn Reyher began having difficulty with her hearing in her twenties.

"I could hear, let's say, the middle of a word or the middle of a sentence, but I couldn't really hear the beginning and the end. I just kind of had to use a lot of brain power to interpret things," Reyher says.

Now, though, she's the first person in the U.S. to receive a Cochlear Nucleus Hybrid Implant since its Food and Drug Administration approval.

Her device was surgically implanted onto part of her cochlea and calibrated by doctors at New York University.

It works together with a hearing aid to amplify the low frequency hearing she's retained, making up for the high frequency hearing she's lost—electronically.

She tested it out for the first time. Her doctor said phrases to Reyher, making sure her mouth was covered, and Reyher repeated them back to her perfectly.

She's finally hearing most of the world around her.

"This is gonna be awesome together!" Reyher says.

"There’s a whole segment of the population very frustrated with their inability to hear. They have very good low frequency hearing which means they can hear the vowels of speech, because vowels are in low frequencies, but their high frequency hearing is very poor and so they can't hear or perceive the consonant sounds," says
Bill Shapiro, Supervising Audiologist at the NYU Cochlear Implant Center.

It's perfect for those who can essentially hear, but have trouble understanding.

"These are patients walking around with hearing aids but the hearing aids are not very helpful. So now she'll be able to hear the difference between 'car' and 'carve', or 'cat' and 'cap,'" Shapiro says.

Reyher was a participant in the clinical trial. It worked so well for her left ear that she signed up to get the implant for her right.

In the process this time she lost a little of her low frequency hearing.

About half of the 50 trial participants saw some additional hearing loss. Six lost their remaining low frequency sound completely.

"If we can maintain after surgery, their acoustic hearing—their low frequency hearing— they'll have a better shot of appreciating music, they'll be able to localize sound a little bit more effectively, they'll be able to hear better in noisy environments," Shapiro says.

Reyher's low frequency hearing is mostly in tact, which she says gives her more confidence, and helps her keep up with her three-year-old son, Rex.

"Do you help Momma hear the doorbell sometimes?" Reyher asks Rex.

"Uh-huh," he replies.

She'll need a lot less of his help now.

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