Maben Lions learn about cochlear implants

By Jane Collins, Secretary

Maben Lions Club

On April 25 the Maben Lions Club was treated to a special program by Brittany Pellegra of Memphis, who explained how cochlear implants work and the process by which they can be obtained.

She speaks with authority because she has had implants herself for 25 years. Having been born deaf, she and her brother were young when they received their implants. She heard for the first time at age 4 and her brother was age 8, but it took much training in speech to develop the language skills she has today.

Brittany is active as an advocate for the Memphis Oral School for the Deaf, which she has represented in numerous fundraising and speaking event. She holds a bachelor’s degree in education. She is now an engagement manager for Cochlear Americas and represents the company in Memphis, Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana.

Unlike hearing aids, Brittany explained, cochlear implants are covered by most private insurance plans (co-pay or deductibles for outpatient surgery apply) or Medicare with supplemental insurance at no cost to the patient. Preliminary hearing tests determine if a patient is qualified to receive the implant; they must have hearing loss of between 40-60 percent when tested.

The implant is placed near the ear with the best hearing level. The procedure is an outpatient surgery that is covered by insurance, including the device that is implanted and the exterior device that attaches to the implant by a magnet, which holds to stay in place through the skin. The surgery is a two-hour procedure accomplished under general anesthesia. There is no age limit.

She explained how normal hearing works using visuals on a wall screen. Sound enters the ear and reaches the eardrum as sound waves. These waves stimulate the cochlear, with its tiny hearing hairs that send the sound on to the audio nerve and to the brain where it is interpreted as meaningful communication. Hearing loss occurs when either the cochlear or the hearing nerve is damaged so that hearing becomes difficult.

Hearing aids help by magnifying the sound to make it louder to reach the hearing nerve, especially when the tiny hairs of the cochlear are damaged or worn down by loud noises or just by age. Cochlear implants work directly with the cochlear to transfer sound directly to the brain, substituting for the damaged cochlear.

She told us that the closest clinic to Maben is in Tupelo. ENT Physicians of North Mississippi under Dr. McAuley will evaluate the patient’s hearing and prepare a qualified patient for the surgical procedure. Normally the whole process requires four trips to the clinic: one for the hearing evaluation, one for medication prep for surgery, one for the surgery, and one for follow-up evaluation and receiving the external part of the device that is fitted after the implant heals completely (about a month or two).

The internal implant never needs to be replaced or updated. It is designed to be durable and the implant is over 99 percent reliable. New technology may upgrade the exterior device so that every five years most insurance and Medicare will replace that outer part so that the patient gets the benefit of the newest improvements at that time. Replacement batteries are also provided through your Medicare insurance coverage.

If an individual is interested in learning more about cochlear implants Brittany is the person to contact. She can be reached at bpellegra@cochlear.com.