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May 2018 Independent Online

For two years Jose Macedo’s world has been silent after he lost his hearing at the age of 2 following a suspected infection. This month the bubbly 4-year-old boy from Angola could hear sounds for the first time following surgery to place a new hi-tech MED-EL cochlear implant. He was the first patient to receive the sophisticated device in the Western Cape and at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital. While implantable and magnetic hearing devices have become a standard treatment for deafness, what makes this cochlear implant unique is it’s compatibility with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which use powerful magnets to create detailed images of the inside of a person’s body.

MRI safety is especially important for cochlear implant recipients, because each one has an internal magnet that can be affected by the scans. Often patients require surgery to remove the magnet first before they are scanned.

Jose

Dr Louis Hofmeyr, an otologist and neurotologist who implanted the hearing device in Jose, said MED-EL implants were 3 Tesla MRI compatible - meaning that recipients could have the high resolution imaging without needing to surgically remove the magnet. Tesla units refer to the strength of MRI machines and all cochlear implants can only withstand 1.5 Tesla, otherwise the magnet has to be surgically removed.

Macedo’s implant was switched on last week, just a few weeks after he had surgery to insert the device. His mother, Martha, who travelled from Angola to be with her son, was over the moon after seeing him responding to sound for the first time in two years. “As soon as they switched on the implant, the phone rang and he quickly turned to it. “We all cried in the room with disbelief, he could really hear again. I was just overwhelmed with joy,” she said. Macedo will need more follow-ups to adjust the sound and the volume of the device as his hearing gradually improves.

Hofmeyer advised parents to seek medical assistance as soon as they picked up any hearing problems. “Implanting a child with hearing loss should be done as young as possible in order for the child to develop speech. The older the person, the poorer the outcome as there is a critical window period to develop speech and language. “Hearing screening, which can be performed within 24 hours of the child’s birth, is also essential,” said Hofmeyer.

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