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Local services save cochlear implant patients travel for follow-up care
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Local services save cochlear implant patients travel for follow-up care

Cochlear implant

Doris Parker, a cochlear implant recipient, sits in a sound-proof room as audiologist Jamie Shumaker conducts a hearing test at Hearing Associates of Dothan, which is one of the few places in Dothan where such patients can receive follow-up services after they get the implant.

Doris Parker can hear grandchildren. She can hear the birds sing. She can hear motorcycles rumble by outside her home.

For the longest time, she couldn’t hear much of anything even with hearing aids. So, she turned to a surgical option with a cochlear implant.

“Hearing aids can be irritable,” Parker said. “Over time, they didn’t help at all.”

In November, Parker received a cochlear implant. But rather than travel farther away to her surgeon for follow-up care, the Altha, Florida, resident drives about an hour to Hearing Associates of Dothan. Her cochlear implant was activated in December.

Now, her husband jokes about her hearing too well.

“I can hear my grandkids better and understand them,” Parker said.

Like Parker, local cochlear implant patients have to travel outside of the Dothan area to receive their surgical implants. And only two local practices – Hearing Associates of Dothan and ENT South – are listed with manufacturer Cochlear Americas, which is one of the three main cochlear implant manufacturers in the U.S.

Hearing Associates of Dothan has partnered with surgeons in Birmingham and Opelika, providing initial evaluations and then follow-up services such as device activation and programming, which may not happen for weeks after the implant surgery. Since they joined the Cochlear Americas network in October, Hearing Associates has worked with three cochlear implant patients.

Having that local option was a long-time goal for audiologists Jamie Shumaker and Robyn Wilkes, partners in Hearing Associates of Dothan.

“Most people would go to Birmingham and have the evaluation for candidacy first,” Shumaker said. “If they were a candidate, they would have the surgery in Birmingham, wait the four to six weeks, have to go back to Birmingham to have the implant activated and then all their follow-up appointments, return back to Birmingham.”

With cochlear implants, electrodes are surgically placed inside the cochlea of the ear and an attached receiver is placed under the skin behind the ear. A processor that looks similar to a hearing aid is typically worn over the ear. An external transmitter attaches to the receiver via a magnet and connects the processor to the receiver. The implant stimulates the hearing nerve.

Both Shumaker and Wilkes learned about cochlear implants during their graduate studies. While there are no surgeons in Dothan doing the implants, the audiologists wanted to at least provide the evaluations and follow-up services so patients don’t have to drive two to three hours each time they need something done.

Like hearing aids, adjustments may be needed depending on the patient. And for some patients, understanding what they’re hearing takes practice. It can take months in some cases for patients to adjust. Having the option for local services can mean a lot for patients.

“When you’re able to give somebody hearing back, you’re giving back their life and their relationships and joy and happiness,” Wilkes said. “A lot of patients who have hearing loss start to withdraw socially because they don’t hear and they don’t understand and it’s easier to stay home than it is to go out. … We want to get them back out in the world and be social and active again so they can participate in family activities and the other activities they enjoy doing.”

Peggy Ussery is a Dothan Eagle staff writer and can be reached at aussery@dothaneagle.com or 334-712-7963. Support her work and that of other Eagle journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today at dothaneagle.com.

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