Old neighbors exchange hellos after hearing implant

The device that made encounter possible, called BAHA for bone-anchored hearing aid, was added to the basket of health services only last year.

By
January 10, 2011 01:35
3 minute read.
Ear

Eli Yishai's ear 58. (photo credit: Haim Tzach)

Forty years after Evelyn Pinto went deaf as a child from immersing herself in a wading pool filled with infected water and after Ilan Yamit was born deaf, they both underwent surgery for implantation of a new hearing device at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot.

After both began to hear at the hospital, Yamit identified Pinto as a former neighbor in Yavne whom she last saw in 1976. They recently celebrated their unplanned reunion in the hospital by actually talking to and understanding each other.

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Pinto, who is 10 years older than Yamit, is a professional cook in a child rehabilitation center who came on aliya from Morocco. While attending a summer camp, she completely lost her hearing after her ears were exposed to the infected water. She has since used sign language to communicate.

Yamit, who works in supply services and who never heard a word until the implant due to congenital deafness, met Pinto in the wards of the ear-nose-and-throat department.

“We used to play together near our homes in Yavne,” he said with emotion. “At the age of 15, I received rabbinical ordination – becoming the youngest rabbi in the country – but as I devoted myself to my studies and wrote books, I didn’t see my neighbors. When I saw Evelyn in Kaplan, I had no doubt it was she. Now we can exchange experiences.”

He left the neighborhood 18 months ago after divorcing, but his ex-wife and children still live there.

Pinto said it was very odd to meet – in the corridor outside the operating theater – a childhood friend and neighbor who had lived 30 meters away.

“I know Ilan’s parents, and know I will get to get to know him again,” she said.

The device that made their encounter possible, called BAHA for bone-anchored hearing aid, was added to the basket of health services only last year. The implanted system works through direct bone conduction and in 2002 was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of unilateral sensorineural hearing loss.

It is meant for people who cannot benefit from conventional hearing aids; both Pinto and Yamit couldn’t wear them because of recurrent infections in their ears.

BAHA allows sound to be conducted through the bone rather than via the middle ear, It consists of three parts – a titanium implant, an external abutment and a sound processor. The system works by enhancing natural bone transmission as a pathway for sound to travel to the inner ear, bypassing the external auditory canal and middle ear.

The implant is placed during a short surgical procedure and over time naturally integrates with the skull bone in a process call osseointegration.

For hearing, the sound processor transmits sound vibrations through the external abutment to the titanium implant. The vibrating implant creates vibrations within the skull and inner ear that stimulate the inner ear’s nerve fibers, allowing hearing.

The device is used to rehabilitate people with conductive and mixed loss hearing impairment such as Pinto, who suffered from chronic infection of the ear canal, congenital ear malformation, such as Yamit, and people with a single-sided hearing loss as a result of surgery for a vestibular tumor of the balance and hearing nerves. It is used both in adults and children.

The device costs $4,000 in the US plus the cost of surgery, but in Israel it is supplied to suitable patients by their health funds. The only manufacturers are the Sydney, Australia-based Cochlear Limited, which registered BAHA as a trademark, and the Gothenburg, Sweden-based Oticon Medical.

Kaplan ear surgery specialist Dr. Yitzhak Poriya, who performed both implant operations, and Dr. Doron Halperin, head of the hospital’s ear-nose-and-throat department, said Pinto shouted “Wow!” with great emotion and tears in her eyes when she found she could hear again.

Pinto added that for years she had no hope of being a “normal person.”

When she learned of the BAHA, she didn’t hesitate to undergo the surgery and hear like everyone else.

“Until now, my eldest son, who is 13, has helped me understand what his 10- year-old sister was telling me. Now, thanks to the incredible staffers at Kaplan, I can hear everyone.”


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