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Cochlear Connect Without Compromise - October 2019

Heather Whitestone McCallum, Miss America 1995, Receives Second Nucleus Cochlear Implant

Second implant reflects growing trend toward two ears, two implants

This summer Heather Whitestone McCallum, Miss America 1995, was successfully implanted with a second Nucleus Cochlear Implant. Profoundly deaf since the age of eighteen months, McCallum is the first woman with a disability to win the Miss America title.

McCallum's first implant on Aug. 7, 2002, allowed her to hear for the first time her family's voices, including those of her two young sons. The new device, implanted at Johns Hopkins in July and activated on August 7, allows her to hear from both ears for the first time, improving her awareness of sounds, their direction, and her understanding of speech in challenging listening environments.

"Until recently, I was able to rely on a small amount of residual hearing in my left ear as well as my cochlear implant," commented Mrs. Whitestone McCallum. "However when I recently lost that hearing, I found that communicating was more of a challenge. As a mother with two young boys, I wanted to have every opportunity to hear and communicate to the best of my ability."

Mrs. Whitestone McCallum is already noticing ways in which she is able to hear more, and hear better. In addition to practical matters, such as being able to hear people even when she can't see them, there are new pleasures to experience. For instance, she recently was able to enjoy the sounds of the ocean. Also, she was able to adjust her Freedom implant so that she could block out background noise and hear her children's voices despite the crashing waves.

She chose the Nucleus Freedom, she added, because the device is programmable for different listening environments, reliable and water-resistant.

An estimated 100,000 people worldwide have cochlear implants, with about 5 percent having bilateral devices. The number of recipients opting for bilateral devices and the number of children being implanted simultaneously in both ears is growing, with most major hearing centers now offering bilateral implants.

Cochlear implants are miniature devices designed to mimic the work of the inner ear in converting sound waves into electrical impulses carried to the brain. Unlike hearing aids, which simply amplify sound, cochlear implants simulate hearing by picking up sound through an external microphone located behind the ear and transmitting sound as electrical signals across the skin to an implanted receiver. The implanted device sends microcurrents directly into the hearing nerve, producing the sensation of hearing in the brain. More than 10,000 children are born deaf each year in the United States, and an estimated 1.5 million people are believed to be good candidates for cochlear implants.

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