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Megan's a pioneer after having the UK's first new cochlear implant fitted

Posted Mar 29 2011 1:49pm

Little Megan McCourt has become the first person in the country to have a new type of cochlear implant fitted.

Because the two-year-old’s cochlea is not pre-curled (like a snail’s shell) as normal, it meant the conventional device due to be implanted inside her ear during surgery, was not the best fit.

So her ear, nose and throat consultant at The James Cook University Hospital, Mr Anirvan Banerjee, decided to try and find an alternative solution for her right ear which would help and in the week before Christmas, she had her pioneering operation.

Mr Banerjee said: “Megan was due to have a bilateral operation last June – meaning two cochlear implants were to be fitted at the same time - but we spotted the cochlea was abnormal.

“While we fitted the conventional device in her left ear I didn’t think it was the right thing to do on the other side, so I spoke to the family and recommended further scans should be carried out.

“I also spoke to colleagues around the country about Megan’s case and it was at one of those meetings I learned of this new device (the Cochlear™ Nucleus® CI422 cochlear implant) and said ‘I want it’. It is very new – not only in this country but worldwide - and I was on holiday when I heard it was available so I came back to do it.”

A cochlear implant is considered in patients whose hearing organ (cochlea) is not working. Instead of making sounds louder like a conventional hearing aid would, the implant bypasses the cochlear by converting mechanical sound signals to electrical impulses, in turn generating a sensation of hearing by directly stimulating the auditory (hearing) nerve.

The implant has two parts – an external part which is worn like a hearing aid and is made up of a speech processor, a lead, a transmitter coil and a microphone – and an internal receiver which is implanted under the skin behind the ear.

The speech processor is fitted and programmed – known as a ‘switch-on’ – around a month after the initial operation. In Megan’s case, the internal receiver which has been fitted is straight rather than coiled.

Megan’s mum Yvonne said: “Mr Banerjee has been fantastic with Megan and has worked so hard for her. As far as we were concerned with the operation we said ‘go for it’, Megan’s had several operations before and bounces back so quickly – she’s doing fantastically well.

“When the first implant was fitted Megan had never heard sound before and it was eight weeks before we saw any reaction, which is common. Then one weekend I said Megan’s name and she looked at me – I spent the next 24 hours calling her and she was definitely hearing; it was like a light switched on.

“Six months down the line she knows how to listen for things and when the new implant was switched on she just looked up at me and did the sign for noise which was great - it was far easier this time.

“With this new implant Meg will hopefully get far more range of sound and it will help her to locate where sounds come from which will be vitally important when she’s older, even for things we take for granted such as crossing a road.”

While Megan is enjoying a new world of sound, when her speech processor is taken off, for example when she goes to bed, she is still deaf.

Yvonne added: “The fact that Megan can hear is a miracle – it’s absolutely amazing for her to go from a world of silence to this. With her processors, she will wake up on a morning and tap the side of her head to say she’s ready to put them onto the little hair-band she wears. Equally when she goes to bed, she’ll take the batteries out herself and put them in the charger – it’s all part of her routine.

“There is no shutting her up now. She loves music and dancing and her favourite programme is Dancing on Ice. Mr Banerjee has really cared and gone that extra mile - the fact she’s had this first implant in the country says a lot about him and we really appreciate it.”

Every year, around 62 cochlear implants are fitted at The James Cook University Hospital. Mr Banerjee added: “I’m just the plumber really. The clever bit is what the team does next when they map the electrodes to sounds. I’m just really glad that I went to that meeting and found the right electrode for Megan - it just happened to be the first one.”

Cochlear ™ manufacture a full portfolio of electrodes and is the result of 30 years of groundbreaking, collaborative clinical and technical research work. As in Megan’s case specific medical indications demand specific solutions to achieve the very best outcome for the patient.

Stuart Thomas, Cochlear Implant Team Manager, UK, Ireland and South Africa said: “We work very closely with our professional colleagues to make sure our technological advances are meeting the needs of the cases we are presented with. I am thrilled that Megan is the very first person to benefit from our newest electrode and she is making such excellent progress.”

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