Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Can I Hear Yet?

Several people have asked me if I can hear yet. The answer is no. I won't be able to begin my "Dance with Sound" until I get my processor (date to be announced). I am still healing and need to give my body time to adjust to the implant. The processor looks very similar to my hearing aid and will sit on my ear with a special hook to keep it in place. It has a magnetic sensor that will connect to the one under my scalp. When the processor receives "sound", the sound will be sent through the sensors to the ones in the cochlea where the auditory nerve sends it to the brain. I am still in awe of technology that is able to make this happen. I will have to be "mapped" with a computer when I get my processor and will have several mapping sessions with a qualified audiologist. I will have two or three in the first week, several times thereafter, and then regularly once a year for adjustments and fine tuning. Everyone has a different hearing fingerprint so my map will not be the same as someone else's. My brain will begin to process all of these new sounds and I will begin a new journey to sound. This is a new chapter in my life and my family's life. God is truly good, all the time.

On activation day I will be getting the new Freedom processor made by Cochlear America. The more I read about it, the more I like the features that it has. One thing thing that is going to be nice is that it was designed for splashproof protection. I won't have to worry about it if I put it on while my hair is still wet after a shower, if I drop it in some water, get it wet in a sprinkler system or walk in the rain. The Freedom also has a built-in telecoil that will make talking on the phone easy. There are no wires, no plugs, and no hassles. It also works with FM system connections. Wireless FM (Frequency Modulation) systems are used to improve hearing in meetings, classrooms and other environments. This is where my new telecoil for my cell phone will come in handy.

The battery compartment completely detaches from the processor, so that I will be able to use it behind the ear (BTE) or as a body worn processor (BWP). The Dr. has told be that I will be getting two "behind the ear" processors, which will be great because I will have one as a backup if needed. The processsors are like "mini-computers." They comes in several different colors which are black, brown, beige, and silver. I'll be getting brown to match my hair color and will not be noticeable at all (once my hair grows back!) The Freedom implant and processor have both been built to accommodate future upgrades, both internally and externally. That means I will have access to future technology when it is available. (Steve thinks that that "bluetooth" technology is next and would not be surprised if my implant and processor have a "slot" set aside for that.) The internal processor under my scalp can be updated by reprogramming it with the latest technology that comes out. There is no more surgery involved. Think of the internal processor as a very expensive and special computer chip with enough storage space on it to be able to download new programs from a computer for future software upgrades. The smart chip that is inside the implant which is under my scalp is fully reprogrammable and has memory for new programs. Because the implant is upward programmable and has a chip in it, it can have new "maps" programmed into it by hooking it up with the processor and a computer. The computer interface will allow the audiologist to program my implant and process with the latest software available for my specific needs. The 22 channel electrodes on the sensory array that is in my cochlea will send send signals to the brain from the mapping of the processor. (Note: I have a link on this blog that shows how the implant works if you haven't clicked on it already.) The Freedom speech processor will hold my mappings and program settings. It is fully reprogrammable by the map settings that my audiologist will set for me. The Freedom processor is what holds the battery cage (three batteries) and the controls for the speech processor. This allow me to change my program setting that is held in the speech processor. When the smart chip in my head is ready to be updated, a transmit coil would be connected to a laptop computer. The computer would then put the smart chip into a "program" mode and have the chip ready to and store new programs. The chip is part of the internal array of the implant. It's right there along with the electrode array that goes into the cochlea, and the housing that holds it all and the magnet. It's part of the internal array, so it's built in. No need to implant anything else. The potential is there for upgrades. Kind of like all the bells and whistles on a computer that most of us don't even realize are there.

When my cochlear implant is mapped, the computer doing the maps combines with the 22 channel sensory array to set a map and that is how I will be able to hear. It's all in the software. Cochlear America is currently developing a new software program to enable N22 and N24 users (who are older implant users) to be able to wear the Freedom processor with its extra features like Beam and ADRO (which N22 & N24 users currently don't have access to with the 3G). The chip that's ONLY in the Freedom implant's internal receiver will be able to receive new software a faster application rate that will be activated via connection to my audiologist's computer. This would be done no differently than a mapping session - the processors (BTE or BWP) are connected by an interface cable to the computer. People with earlier generation implants do not have the "smart" chip that Freedom implantees have so they will be somewhat limited in how far they can go with newer technology as it evolves. Cochlear has been very successful in making cochlear implant equipment as backward compatible as possible. Some former implantees will not get EVERYTHING (i.e., faster rate strategies) but they have not been left behind in being able to benefit from and enjoy significant improvements over time. Maybe cochlear implants will become "wireless" one of these days. And I will have access to that when it happens.

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