Dec 2017 Huffington Post

During his freshman year at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1983, film director Larry Guterman found himself at an extremely loud party. The boisterous festivity left him with ringing in both ears for about a week – ultimately pushing him to see a doctor. “I went to get checked,” said Guterman, “and they found some mild loss, about 35dB, in one of my ears, at 2kHz.” That first visit to the audiologist marked Guterman’s hearing decline. Over the next few years, he experienced gradual hearing loss – triggering him to try everything to keep his ears from getting worse. “I went to Mass. Eye and Ear in Boston, the House Group in Los Angeles, where they pioneered the cochlear implant, UCSD, UCSF, Stanford, etc.,” he said. “After ruling out acoustic neuromas and Meniere’s disease,” he continued, “each doctor gave me a different diagnosis – from cochlear otosclerosis to autoimmune disease to genetic or congenital causes – with no treatment.”

While Guterman’s cause of hearing loss was uncertain, what was clear to him was he had to adapt to his condition – something he admitted was not easy. “I think some of the most anxiety-ridden situations I experienced included being in phone meetings, or being in business meetings at a restaurant or in a crowded environment, where it became harder to understand what others were saying. Work situations where there was critical information I needed to hear or process – that was nerve-wracking,” he said.

Larry GutermanDespite the challenges he faced as a result of his impairment, Guterman, 54, managed to launch a successful career in the film industry. He has collaborated with Steven Spielberg and Ron Howard and worked on such projects as “Antz” and “Cats & Dogs.” But as Guterman’s career took off, he began to grow frustrated with the limitations of hearing devices. “I was starting to have trouble understanding on phone calls even with my hearing aids,” he said. “I’d get feedback, they were awkward to use with headsets, etc. I tried several different hearing aids with streaming from the phone through streamers. But, I couldn’t get the speech discrimination I needed and they were too expensive to buy just to use as regular hearing aids for ambient situations. “So,” he continued, “I started taking my hearing aids out and using earbuds to talk on the phone. The problem, of course, was that I wasn’t getting any shaping of the speech signal and things sounded too muffled.”
Guterman joined forces with Jody Winzelberg, Au.D., former chief of audiology at Stanford Children’s Health, to create San Francisco-based SonicCloud, an app for iOS that puts hearing aid technology on the iPhone. One of SonicCloud’s investors is actor Sean Hayes – who many readers know as “Jack” from “Will & Grace” – and who also stars in a funny commercial about the app.

Unlike sound amplifying apps that only work for in-person conversations and for mild hearing loss, SonicCloud can help people with severe hearing loss experience clear conversations over the phone. It is currently the only app that can customise sound on a phone call according to the unique needs of each person. “Our technology stack includes much more than an app,” Guterman said. “We’ve built a highly accurate hearing assessment tool, a cloud-based signal processing engine, and a fully functional, proprietary VoIP calling service that works not only on the phone (mobile), but also (currently in beta) on the desktop, and that uses the data captured by the hearing assessment tool to personalise audio on phone calls to the user’s unique hearing profile.”

Guterman said that while SonicCloud’s first product is in telephony, the company plans to expand and cover all things sound. The SonicCloud app is available in the Apple app store.

ABC Local Radio with Rebecca Levingston

Have you ever seen one of those videos where a child is fitted with a hearing aid and they hear their parents voice for the first time? Their little face lights up and the parents tear up. It's the magic of a bionic ear that changes lives. Wally Lewis remembers the moment that happened to him and his daughter, but the woman responsible for that magic is Dr Dimity Dornan. Dimity is the founder of the Hear and Say Centre and this year marks 25 years of her transforming lives. Dimity and Wally chat with Rebecca Levingston.

This link will go to the page where you can listen.

Duration: 20min 50sec Download MP3 9.54MB Broadcast: Sat 2 Dec 2017

Dec 2017 Illawarra Mercury

Harper Rollinson

Three-year-old Bulli girl Harper whose face (inset) said it all when her cochlear implants were turned on

Luke and Katie Rollinson had no choice but to start their baby daughter Harper on chemotherapy at just 12 days old to treat aggressive eye cancer. It saved Harper’s life, however three years on the little girl lives with some of the side effects of the cancer treatment – the most serious being severe to profound hearing loss. So recently the Bulli couple was faced with another heartbreaking choice – should she continue with hearing aids or should she undergo cochlear implant surgery.

Their decision to do the latter was validated – when Harper’s face lit up with joy and astonishment when the bilateral implants were switched on. ‘’We didn’t have to make a decision with the chemo – it was the only option – so this was harder in a way,’’ Mr Rollinson said. ‘’Because when you have a cochlear implant you can’t reverse it, so it’s a big decision to make for a three-year-old little girl.
‘But while her hearing aids were giving her the volume, they weren’t giving her the clarity she needed. And while her speech was improving with therapy from The Shepherd Centre, it was behind that of other three-year-olds and that gap would only grow. So we decided to go ahead and she had the five-hour long surgery at Prince of Wales Hospital.

The couple knew there was every chance Harper would develop retinoblastoma, after genetic testing in utero revealed she had the RB1 gene. Mr Rollinson carries the gene, and had his right eye removed due to a tumour at 18 months old, and replaced with a glass eye. The couple’s first-born, son Eli, was tested when he was six months old and a small tumour was discovered on his retina, which has been successfully treated with laser and cryotherapy. But Harper’s tumour required stronger treatment, and while prognosis is positive, it’s been a rough ride. ‘’She started chemo at just 12 days, and had six rounds over the next six months,’’ Mr Rollinson said. ‘’The treatment was successful but both her and Eli have to be examined under anaesthetic every 12 weeks – up until they’re about six or seven. Eli’s vision is not affected at all but we’ve been told Harper will only have peripheral vision in her right eye. But it’s absolutely inspirational to see how resilient she has been and it amazes me – she’s such a strong individual with a heart of gold.’’

Harper & parents


Harper, pictured with parents Luke and Katie, is getting used to the implants.

Harper Rollinson


With her parents and brother Eli, 4

The Shepherd Centre spokeswoman Jo Wallace said chemo-induced hearing loss was relatively common for children. ‘’A number of children come through our services undergoing treatment for cancer,’’ she said. ‘’I really feel for them, as going through cancer is big enough and they then have to deal with the aftermath of treatment, such as hearing loss.’’ Ms Wallace said early intervention was key for kids with hearing loss. ‘’Giving children access to sound as soon as possible is essential to their development,’’ she said. ‘’If that is via implants, we help the whole family through the process, and offer ongoing support, therapy and mapping services.’’

Mr. Rollinson praised the centre, and Australian Hearing, for their support. The Rollinsons’ have also helped raised awareness and funding for the many other organisations which have helped them with their journey – including the Children’s Cancer Institute and Camp Quality.

Dec 2017 Champaign-Urbana News Gazette

Pioneering Dr. William F. House made medical history in 1981, when he developed the first cochlear implant for young children. When it came time to study how effective the implants were on kids, the California physician turned to a young speech-language pathologist named KAREN ILER KIRK. She tested the children before their implants and followed up with them after the procedures, sometimes for years. She documented speech and language outcomes in children with implants and identified factors contributing to the success of the implants. Today, Kirk heads up the Department of Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Illinois. The 62-year-old Champaign resident was recently honoured by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which presented Kirk with its lifetime achievement accolade — the Honours of the Association Award — in Los Angeles, the same city where she helped make history more than three decades ago.

Karen Iler KirkKaren Iler Kirk in her office

How did you end up in the field of hearing and speech?
I went to the University of California at Santa Barbara. I was a junior majoring in sociology. I happened to take a class in Introduction to Speech and Hearing Science. I thought it was fabulous, so I changed my major and went an extra two quarters. So I was inspired by a course. And I'm going to be teaching that same class next semester here at the University of Illinois. I hope I can inspire others in the same way I was inspired.

Take us back to 1981, when you became the first speech-language pathologist on a peadiatric cochlear implant team in the U.S.
We started with children who were about 3 years old. Most of those children had lost their hearing due to meningitis, which children now get vaccinated against. I wasn't involved with the technology. I put together a testing program to assess the children's speech and language. The person who hired me and the first person to implant a cochlear device in a child was Dr. House. I wasn't in the operating room to watch the implant, but I saw it by way of a video camera. I was hired to determine the benefit under ideal conditions. We were implanting children who we thought might be good candidates. We were looking at the safety and efficacy of these devices in children.

How did you end up being part of Dr. House's team?
I was working in a public school for a year as a speech language therapist in Los Angeles. I had a friend who was a Ph.D. student who tested adult cochlear implant users. Dr. House told her he was going to start a peadiatric cochlear implant program. He said with children, the implant is just the first step. They have to learn how to use this information. We didn't know how it would affect their education. He told her he needed a speech-language therapist to help assess these children. And my friend gave Dr. House my name.

What was your role during that historic period?
Our job was to diagnose and treat speech and language disorders. We had standardised assessment materials that were available. I decided which ones we would put in our protocol and administered them to the children. We would conduct language samples to see how they communicated with a parent. We did it before they got the surgery, and we did it again after they got the surgery. They came back every six months. We would follow them for as long as they would keep coming back, up to 10 years.

Did the children's hearing gradually improve following the implants, or did it happen all at once?
Gradually. First of all, it doesn't give them back normal hearing. Back then, it was an extremely crude device that gave them information about the intensity of how loud and how long the sounds were. An adult could use this sound to develop lip reading. But a child wouldn't understand what the sound was connected to. It takes time to acquire speech and language. Babies aren't born talking. We followed the children over the years. They were delayed, but they were able to use the sounds. These devices helped children improve their speaking and listening skills.

How does it feel to help a child who previously could not hear to be able to listen?
I feel amazingly privileged to be able to be a part of it and to see it in person. There are other options for deaf children. They can learn American sign language, which is a beautiful, natural language. But these children's parents were hearing, and their parents wanted them to be a part of the hearing world. To see children who previously couldn't even detect sounds to be able to recognise their names and to be able to understand new things was a very overwhelming experience for me. Many, many children who have been deaf from birth have benefited from the implants.

Do you remember the first child to receive the implant?
Yes. She was a 3-year-old girl. She was born with normal hearing and then got meningitis and lost her hearing. By the time I saw her, she had been deaf for about six months, and she functioned very much like a child who had never heard. After the implant, it was very exciting. At first, I didn't see a lot of changes. But as time went by, I saw how she was able to reacquire sounds.