Theodore (Ted) Mason, MD, is an otolaryngologist and cochlear implant (CI) surgeon at Ear, Nose & Throat Surgeons of Western New England in Springfield, MA, and a member of Clarke’s Board of Trustees. In 2002, Ted established the Cochlear Implant Program at Baystate Medical Center, one of the most prestigious CI programs in the Northeast.
Ted presented an educational seminar on the basics of hearing, hearing loss and hearing technology, which was made available to all Clarke staff—and intended specifically for staff members whose background is not in hearing health. As part of our effort to continue raising awareness that children who are deaf or hard of hearing can learn to listen and talk, Clarke is eager to share this helpful information about CIs from Ted.
Cochlear implants are surgically implanted devices that convert sound into electrical impulses that stimulate the auditory nerve directly, which the brain then recognizes as sound. Many of the infants, toddlers, young children, mainstream students and adults Clarke serves use this technology—and some have even received their implants from Ted.
In the US, the earliest a cochlear implant can be provided to a child is at the age of nine months. There is no upper age limit. Ted estimates that approximately 80% of his patients receiving implants are adults—mainly elderly adults. The recipient should have severe to profound hearing loss in both ears and have completed a trial with hearing aids before receiving CIs. There have also been some recent changes in FDA indications and insurance coverage for implantation of select individuals with single-sided deafness as well.
Ted notes that when a child receives a CI, they are admitted the day of the surgery. They have their choice of brightly colored headwraps, and if they bring along their favorite stuffed animal, it will receive a matching headwrap as well. The surgery takes from 45 minutes to an hour, and the patient is usually discharged the same day. (Patients younger than two years old will stay at the hospital overnight.)
With minimal hair shaving and dissolvable stitches, the recipient can be back to their usual activities the following day. He notes that the patient may experience changes in their balance, though this is uncommon. Ted also shares that many school-age children have the surgery on Friday and are back to school on Monday.
After surgery, the CI recipient will do best with a holistic support team that includes their family, the surgeon, an audiologist, nurses, educators, and a speech-language pathologist. One to two weeks after surgery, the CI is mapped—meaning each separate electrode in the device (which contains between 16 to 20 electrodes total) is turned on while the patient determines desired volume and intensity. Ted says that CI users may find sounds robotic at first, but over time they become more natural.
Notably, says Ted, children who receive their implants at an early age frequently attain normal or near-normal speech perception and production when provided with skilled early intervention support and listening and spoken language education from organizations like Clarke. To learn more about cochlear implants and hearing aids, visit clarkeschools.org/cochlear-implants-hearing-aids.