Feb 2020 Suncoast News

He’s bold, jovial and a bit of a flirt with the ladies. And at 91, Wilbur Holbrook of Spring Hill had no intentions of slowing down. His son, Anthony, knew this and pushed hard to help his father overcome the tremendous obstacles of severe hearing loss. “He hasn’t been able to hear well since the mid-’80s,” Anthony said. “It was like talking to a brick wall.”

Joanie Davis McKittrickJoanie Davis McKittrick shows Wilbur Holbrook, 91, the dramatic improvement in his hearing in just over a month since his implant healed

Just over a month prior, Wilbur underwent a Cochlear implant in his right ear at Morton Plant Hospital, in Clearwater. He was home within hours after the outpatient procedure but took three weeks to recover from the surgery. “The first day he was in pretty sad shape,” Anthony said. Because the ear swells after the implant, Wilbur experienced dizziness and nausea, one of the possible side effect of the implantation procedure. Anthony decided to admit Wilbur to Bayfront Health Spring Hill for two days until the swelling had gone down. After three weeks, adjustments to the implant were then made at Davis Family Hearing as his brain adapted to the new sounds. And at his second post-implant visit, the difference was remarkable.

Joanie Davis McKittrick isn’t surprised with Wilbur’s immediate turn around. Not all clients are a good fit for cochlear implantation. His age was a factor. And he suffers with dementia. But she never doubted the implant would change his life. “He had no other option,” she said. Wilbur sat in a sound room with McKittrick at the computer outside. It had been two weeks since the last adjustment. “When you hear a beep, say yes,” she instructed. Wilbur complied while smiling. It was impossible for him to contain his giddiness. As the testing continued, McKittrick made the necessary adjustments and was very pleased with the progress. McKittrick is a specialised audiologist and is a strong proponent of cochlear implants. It is unusual for a private practice to work with cochlear implants, she said. But Davis Family Hearing has been on the cutting edge of technology since she opened her practice in 2013. “We have the largest number of cochlear implants of any private practice in the nation,” she added.

Only about 20 percent of those who could benefit from cochlear implants are actually getting them. That is because many audiologists aren’t familiar and won’t recommend them. McKittrick is working hard to change that. Cochlear implants are generally regarded a safe solution to hearing loss in most individuals. It does require a surgical procedure and patients must be approved by the surgeon to undergo anesthesia. But most of her recommendations, including Wilbur, are approved.

Wilbur came to Davis Family Hearing after being denied the procedure by other audiologists. The Marine Corps veteran and retired educator had only around 30 percent of his hearing left. His son described the difficulties in simple tasks like going out to dinner. “He didn’t know how loud he was talking,” Anthony said. He and his wife Debra would have to order for his father. The experience was often very challenging on everyone. After the implant, the family went out to dinner. “It was amazing,” said Anthony.

“It is an intense process and it’s a time commitment,” said McKittrick. “But it’s life changing.”

She is working with another patient who is a little further along two in the process. “When I first tested him with his hearing aid, he understood 28 percent,” McKittrick said. “Two months after the Cochlear implant, he understood 78 percent. That’s two months. He’s going to hit 90 percent.”

Cochlear implants aren’t just options for adults. McKittrick has worked with children with similar positive outcomes. “They have to be at least a year old and that’s so the skull is hard enough to drill in.” The most successful cases happen with those who were able to hear before or very young patients who have never heard. “The point is auditory memory,” she explained. “So, people who have heard or are so young they haven’t missed anything yet are most successful. Those who are born deaf and wait until they are in their 30s to get a cochlear implant are not as successful.”

For the Holbrook family, the decision appears to have been the right one. Anthony Holbrook couldn’t hide his gratitude. “I got my father back.”

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