Hope for hearing: The first day with a cochlear implant

Credit: Paul Boehlke/ KTVB

Hope for hearing: The first day with a cochlear implant

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by Jamie Grey

Bio | Email | Follow: @KTVBJamieGrey

KTVB.COM

Posted on April 18, 2013 at 11:17 AM

Updated Sunday, Nov 24 at 12:45 AM

BOISE -- An Idaho woman who has been deaf her entire life now has new hope for hearing using a technology that's become more and more popular: A cochlear implant.

'I've been deaf my whole life'

Jill Paskett, a 34-year-old who lives in Heyburn, Idaho, has around 95% hearing loss from a progressive hearing impairment she's had since birth.

"I've been deaf my whole life. I was born three months premature, and so they think it was from complications with that," Paskett said. "They didn't find out I was deaf until I was 5."

She got hearing aids when she was five and was able to hear some sounds, like running water. But when she was 15, she lost more hearing, and in the last few years, it's gotten even worse. She reads lips and speaks well, but her hearing will continue getting worse.

"I can remember hearing more when I was little. Things that don't make any sound anymore," Paskett said. "I have a hearing aid in, and I can just hear like little bits and pieces."

'I don't want to not be able to hear my kids'

She found out recently that her hearing loss is now so severe that hearing aids can't help. Then, she found out her insurance would cover cochlear implants.

"So I thought, well, you know, now's the time. Because I don't want to not be able to hear my kids in 10 years. And I figured I would lose it all by then," Paskett said.

On March 20, she had surgery at St. Luke's to get the implant put into her head. On April 16, she went to the Elks Hearing and Balance Center for an audiologist to turn on the implant.

"I'm excited and nervous. I'm excited to be able to hear sound, but it's also kind of scary to hear that much. Because it's going to be more than I've ever heard," Paskett said. "I guess my biggest fear would be it sounds the same because I can barely hear anything now."

Doctor: Patients don't always understand sounds at first

Before the appointment, Paskett's audiologist, Dr. Alison Faber, explained the implant and what we could expect.

"A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that bypasses the natural way of hearing when there's a severe to to profound hearing impairment, and it directly stimulates the auditory nerve with electrical impulses," Faber said.

The implant completely changes how a person hears. While it's uncertain what someone will hear on the first day, Faber says patients will hear something.

"You should expect that she would perceive sound. She may or may not enjoy the quality of the sound," Faber said. "She may not detect [speaking] as voices or perceive them as voices or know that a knock on the door was a knock on the door, but she will be able to hear that sound."

'I almost feel like I can't hear anything'

During the appointment, Dr. Faber began by playing series of beeps to take measurements and set the implant. While everyone else in the room could hear the sounds and tones, Paskett initially showed no signs of hearing them.

"That's okay. It takes a while," Faber told Paskett.

Then, after a few minutes, a bit of recognition flashed across Paskett's face and she exclaimed, "It's almost like I'm imagining it though!"

After a few more measurements, she realized she could hear the beeps and tones. Then, Dr. Faber wanted Paskett's family to try talking to her. At first, she couldn't hear anything. Then, she realized she could tell people around her were talking, but couldn't tell what they were saying.

"It's just kind of a high pitch," Paskett said. "All I can hear is like chirping."

Faber explained: "That chirping she's hearing is the auditory nerve receiving that stimulation. It's a completely different way of hearing, so your nerve and your brain is getting used to that new way of hearing.'

'I think it'll be really good'

While it will take time to comprehend the sounds, the doctors say it won't take very long. As for expectations, Paskett says it's not what she thought it would be like and everything feels different, but she's optimistic about the ultimate outcome.

"I feel like I'm hearing higher pitches which I never heard before. I think it'll be really good. I've just got to process what I'm hearing now," Paskett said.

Paskett's mom, dad, two of her brothers, and her two kids were at the appointment and are excited about her future with the cochlear implant - what her dad calls 'an answer to prayers'.

"I think it's going to open up a whole new world. She hasn't been able to take some of the jobs that she'd tried to get because she had to be able to talk on the telephone," Jim Paskett said. "This will make it so she can talk on the phone. She'll be able to communicate so much better. She's bright. She's got education, but she hasn't been able to utilize it like she'd like to."

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