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New bone anchored hearing implant enhances patient’s life

Dec. 2, 2020, 1:35 PM


by Kathy Whitney

Although Elisabeth Mouw, 23, knew she would benefit from having a bone-anchored hearing implant, she put off getting one for several years. Aside from being concerned about the aesthetic of wearing an external hearing device, she was worried it would interfere with her ability to play sports.

Elisabeth Mouw received a new type of cochlear implant that better fit her active lifestyle.

Mouw was born with a cholesteatoma, a cyst that invades the middle ear and mastoid. It can eat into the bone and grow aggressively. Mouw underwent two extensive surgeries as a child to remove the cholesteatoma from her hearing bones and facial nerve, one in Chattanooga where she lives, and one, at age 10, at Vanderbilt when she was emergently referred to David Haynes, MD, professor of Otolaryngology and Hearing and Speech Sciences, because the cholesteatoma was causing facial paralysis.

“I was very scared; it was a new place. Once I met Dr. Haynes, he was so patient with me and he gained and earned my trust,” Mouw said.

Haynes performed a mastoidectomy and facial nerve decompression and resolved the facial nerve weakness. The complexity of the surgery and the erosive disease in the ear resulted in substantial hearing loss.

A traditional bone- anchored implant that places a titanium post behind the ear and attaches to a processor was an option that Mouw was offered, but she declined.

“What scared me was having the bone anchor sticking out of my head. That freaked me out. Being a sports player, it wouldn’t be good for me. My parents wanted me to have it. I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want it cosmetically. I waited and I waited,” she said.

Thirteen years later, on her annual visit to Vanderbilt, Mouw’s audiologist, Amanda Edwards, AuD, CCC-A, in Hearing and Speech Sciences, evaluated her for the Cochlear Osia 2 System, which received FDA approval in December 2019. Haynes agreed that Mouw was a candidate.

“Due to the extent of her cholesteatoma and her surgery, she wasn’t a good candidate for a traditional hearing aid. This new implant provided her what she needed: the power required for her to benefit without the titanium percutaneous portion of the traditional bone-anchored hearing implant,” Haynes said.

The Osia is placed under the skin and works by bypassing damaged areas of the outer and middle ear, which sends sound directly to the inner ear. It is implanted under the skin behind the ear and does not require a titanium post to be placed through the skin. There is a slim and discreet sound processor that sits behind the ear that captures and transmits sound to the internal processor. It is compatible with wireless accessories and sound can be adjusted through a smartphone or even an Apple watch.

“In August I got confirmation that I’d be receiving the Osia. I was super excited about it and Dr. Haynes and the entire team were super helpful. They made me feel really safe and I understood what was going to happen because they explained it to me before the operation, which gave me peace of mind,” Mouw said.

Three months after receiving the implant, Mouw is thrilled with the results. Her hearing has improved, and not only is she not embarrassed to be wearing it, she proudly shows it off.

“I like how it’s sleek and it looks really cool on my head. I work with tons of kids every day at my job. I wear my hearing aid and I’m really excited about it. I tell them, ‘Look, here’s my hearing aid; I can hear you,’” said Mouw, who is a photographer specializing in high school senior portraits.

“I take it on and off, and they think it’s cool. I tell them I hope that if anyone in their high school has one of these that they treat them just as normal as anyone else. As I’m getting used to it, I’m getting to interact with them and teach them it’s OK to have a hearing device. I want people to see it and ask me about it. It’s real cute; I love it.”

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