“When you’re talking about a $60 million budget, you have to be able to keep up with the conversation,”
But Neuenswander began to hear the sounds of life again recently, when he became the 1,000th patient to receive a cochlear implant at Saint Luke’s Midwest Ear Institute. The procedure was performed by Charles Luetje, M.D., who founded the Ear Institute in 1980.
“People always told me I had two problems: I couldn’t hear and they couldn’t help me,” Neuenswander said. “Dr. Luetje was the first one who said, ‘We can help you.’”
The surgically implanted electronic device that helped Neuenswander and 999 patients before him consists of an external processor and microphone that rest behind the ear, and an internal electrode that’s placed in the cochlea with a receiver under the skin.
Unlike hearing aids, which amplify sound, cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. The implant generates signals that travel via the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes them as sound.
About 80 patients a year undergo this life-changing procedure at Midwest Ear Institute, a nationally recognized cochlear implant center. Patients have ranged in age from 9 months to 93 years.
During its 31 years of operation, the Ear Institute has been a leader in advancing cochlear implant technology.
“The earlier cochlear implants had only one electrode, and patients who received them could only hear enough sound to help them lip-read,” said Kristen Lewis, director of Clinical Services at the Ear Institute. “But now we have implants with multiple electrodes that give patients low pitches to high pitches. With that, patients are able to understand speech without lipreading. They can get up to 100 percent speech understanding.”
And the technology continues to advance. As part of a national clinical trial, Neuenswander received what is known as a “hybrid cochlear implant.” Neuenswander had lost high-pitch hearing but retained hearing in the low-pitch spectrum, which made him a viable candidate for a hybrid implant.
“The hybrid implant is slightly shorter and thinner than a traditional implant, and it’s inserted only partway into the cochlea, to replace the high pitches only, while preserving the patient’s natural low-pitch hearing,” Lewis said.
The goal of the clinical trial is to win Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of the hybrid procedure. Once that occurs, the procedure will become widely available to more patients like Neuenswander.
“I encourage people who have hearing loss to not wait around, but get with a good audiologist,”
The Midwest Ear Institute is located at 4200 Pennsylvania Ave., on the Saint Luke’s Hospital campus near the Country Club Plaza. Besides cochlear implants, the Ear Institute offers services such as a hearing aid program, vestibular (balance) testing, diagnosis and treatment of auditory processing disorders, hearing protection consultation, and tinnitus evaluation and treatment.
More information may be obtained by calling the Midwest Ear Institute at 816-932-1660.
About Midwest Ear Institute
This year the Midwest Ear Institute celebrates its 31st year. Founded by neuro-otologist Charles Luetje, M.D., the Ear Institute’s mission is to enhance quality of life by restoring or improving hearing in children and adults. From pioneering early cochlear implant surgery (Dr. Luetje performed the 60th in the nation), Midwest Ear Institute has grown into a nationally recognized center of excellence. Along with Bradley Thedinger, M.D., and Robert Cullen, M.D., the Ear Institute participates in almost all FDA clinical trials to determine the efficacy of cochlear implant devices, offering patients the latest in surgical advances and devices. Experienced, certified audiologists meet the follow-up needs of patients after implantation.
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Saint Luke's Health System based in Kansas City, Mo., consists of 11 area hospitals in northwest Missouri and eastern Kansas, and several primary and specialty care practices. We provide a range of inpatient, outpatient and home care services.