- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

CHESTERFIELD, Mo. (AP) - After years with hearing loss, a suburban St. Louis woman has received a new type of cochlear implant that may restore her ability to hear high-frequency sounds.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch (https://bit.ly/1Asafxk ) reports that earlier this month, 40-year-old Stephanie Gurley-Thomas became the first person in the St. Louis region to receive the new type of implant created for adults who have lost the ability to hear high-frequency sounds, but who can still pick up low-frequency sounds.

Sounds such as doorbells, birds, even the voice of her 3-year-old, have been difficult for Gurley-Thomas to hear. The Cochlear Nucleus Hybrid L24 Cochlear Implant System, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in March, combines the functions of a cochlear implant with a hearing aid.

It uses implanted electrodes to convert high-frequency sounds into electrical impulses that the brain can interpret. A conventional hearing aid amplifies the low-frequency sounds.

An audiologist turned on Gurley-Thomas’ implant for the first time at St. Luke’s Hospital in Chesterfield, telling her the high-pitched noises “are just beeps.”

“I know,” Gurley-Thomas said. “This is what I’ve been waiting for, that I’d hear something. And I did.”

Gurley-Thomas has sensorineural hearing loss, the most common form of hearing loss. Causes include aging, heredity, exposure to loud noise, and certain illnesses and medications that are toxic to the inner ear. Traditional hearing aids are not effective, but the loss is not severe enough to require a cochlear implant.

“We see these people every day, and they are frustrated because there’s no solution for them,” said Dr. Jacques Herzog, director of the Center for Hearing and Balance Disorders at St. Luke’s.

Herzog was involved in a clinical study with 50 people who had hybrid implants. A majority of patients reported significant improvement in speech recognition six months later.

There is a down side: The risk of losing residual hearing during the implant surgery is high.

In its approval, the FDA wrote that it “determined that the overall benefits of the device outweigh the risk for those who do not benefit from traditional hearing aids.”

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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