Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Implant Opens Life of Hearing; A Young Woman Got Her Second Cochlear Device and Sounds Are More Real Now

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Implant Opens Life of Hearing; A Young Woman Got Her Second Cochlear Device and Sounds Are More Real Now

Article excerpt


BRRRRRR ... The sound of a construction drill outside shattered the early morning silence in the examining room of the North Florida Children's Cochlear Implant Program at Center One on the Southside.

Patty Heard's eyes widened with surprise. She turned her head in the direction of the drilling.

"I know exactly where that sound is coming from," she said.

Audiologist Mary Jo Schuh laughed with delight as she reached out to grasp the hand of the young deaf woman she has worked with for more than 15 years.

Heard lost her hearing as a result of an attack of meningitis when she was 6 months old, and in 1989, at age 4, was one of the youngest children in the United States to receive a cochlear implant. In December, she received a cochlear implant for her other ear, giving her much-improved directional hearing.

Eighteen years ago, the Houston Ear Research Foundation was one of the few places the surgery was being performed.

"And that's where we took Patty," said her mother, Rosa Heard. "She was meant to hear."

Pioneers in opting to have the then still-experimental electrical hearing device implanted in their daughter's skull, Michael and Rosa Heard of Mandarin have had their tough decision affirmed repeatedly in subsequent years. Within three years, cochlear implants were being performed at Nemours Children's Hospital, and their daughter was one of thousands of children receiving the hearing device.

Patty, now 22, was mainstreamed into the Duval County School System, graduated from Mandarin High School and is a senior at the University of Central Florida. Active in her Delta Gamma sorority and president of UCF's chapter of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association, Patty Heard has achieved much in the "hearing world" despite her deafness.

"Patty's had wonderful speech therapists and great support in all of her schools," said her mother. "She's always been a solid B student who participated in all the regular school activities."

While her speech is clear and concise, there is a slight lisp. "People will ask me where I'm from," said Patty Heard, with a grin. "They think it's an accent."

Sometimes, she noted, when she removes the speech processor and microphone at bedtime, it suddenly occurs to her, "Oh yeah, I'm deaf."

"Patty has made remarkable progress in her speech and hearing," said audiologist Schuh, "and the advances in cochlear implants during the past two decades are what brought her to the office today."

In a two-hour procedure at Baptist Medical Center performed Dec. 14 by neuro-otology implant surgeon J. Douglas Green Jr., Patty Heard received a second cochlear implant.

Later she went to Schuh's office for an examination - and to have the device fully activated for the first time.

"I decided to have a second implant because I plan to be a pediatric audiologist," said Heard.

"I wanted to have the full benefits of hearing with both ears."

The ability to detect directional sound, she said, was just one of the benefits she's discovered with the new implant.

"It's like I suddenly have 'surround sound,' " she told Schuh. "I can almost feel my brain working to make it happen."

As Schuh adjusted the volume, charted the level of her patient's hearing on a computer screen and informed her of several options available on her new device, Rosa Heard looked on. …

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