Father, son share special bond; both receive cochlear implants to improve hearing, speech
Woodruff Health Sciences Center | April 21, 2017
Thirty-five-year-old Randy Adams and his 16-month-old son Maxwell have a bond that most other father-son pairs won't share. They both have genetic defects of the inner ear, leaving Randy nearly deaf and son, Maxwell completely deaf.
Newborn screening identified Maxwell's hearing loss early, and at 10-months-old, he received a cochlear implant — an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. An otolaryngologist, or ENT surgeon, surgically places electrodes into the inner ear, called the cochlea. An audio processor is worn on the head above the ear to pick up sound from the environment.
"We go behind the ear and we make an incision, and we place special electrodes inside the hearing organ, which is called the cochlea," says Esther Vivas, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) at Emory. "The electrodes actually send electrical signals to the cells in the inner ear, and those signals are then transmitted through the cochlear nerve to the brain and it's like hearing."
After Maxwell's procedure, Randy learned he, too, might be a candidate for a cochlear implant. He was directed to Vivas at Emory University Hospital Midtown, who has begun seeing more adults who are turning to cochlear implants as an option to improve their hearing.
"Randy was very motivated for his son to do well, and the thought of being able to experience what his son was going through motivated his decision to also try the cochlear implant," says Vivas.
In early March, Adams had his device implanted. After a month, on March 30, the device was activated. It was then that Adams could hear some sounds and feel vibrations through the ear.
Sitting beside her husband, Randy's wife, Michelle Adams asks, "Can you hear me?"
"A little bit, but you have a low voice," says Randy Adams through an interpreter. "So good to hear your voice," Randy tells his wife. Michelle tears up.
Like with any new technology, it will take time to fine-tune the new device. Adams' brain must learn to understand the new sounds it is now hearing.
"It takes time, and everyone is different in how much benefit they get, and when they get that benefit," says Jenna Frasso, AuD, CCC-A, audiologist for the Department of Otolaryngology at Emory.
Adams will spend the next few months adjusting to the new device and experiencing different sounds. He is able to control the levels of sounds he hears with a remote at home. He will also begin speech therapy once a week, just like Maxwell, and return for follow-up programming to fine-tune the processor.
According to Vivas, because Maxwell's cochlear implant was received before 12 months of age, he should have near normal speech development. Dad Randy will likely have more difficulty with speech, since it wasn't developed early in life.
"Hopefully, with the cochlear implant, things will improve and we'll find a better career and better job opportunities due to improved hearing," Adams says through the interpreter. "There are many things that limit what deaf people are able to do and what they can and cannot do. So, I'm hoping in the future, I'll be able to do more."