July 2020 Newswise
Doug Kerkman wearing his new, first-of-its-kind hearing implant system
For 22 years, Douglas Kerkman lived with significant hearing loss in his right ear, the result of a cholesteatoma (a benign, infectious cyst) that significantly damaged his auditory ossicles, or “ear bones,” the three tiny bones in the middle ear. “I just adapted over the years,” says Mr. Kerkman, a 58-year-old, married father of two from Algonquin, Illinois, of his hearing loss. “I became a pro at positioning myself where to sit. People always had to be on my left. And I would try to read people’s lips. I was in front of people and customers all the time. But I couldn’t hear people approaching me, and I felt like people thought I was ignoring them,” says Mr. Kerkman, the co-owner of an aviation products company. “And I’m not that person. I’m always open. I’m boisterous. I just felt like I was mistreating people.”
Last fall, Mr. Kerkman received a call from his doctor, Sam J. Marzo, MD, Loyola Medicine otolaryngologist, and dean and professor, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, letting him know about a first-of-its-kind hearing implant system that he believed could restore Mr. Kerkman’s ability to fully hear. Unlike other hearing devices, the Cochlear ™ Osia® 2 System sends sound vibrations directly to the inner ear, or cochlea. “The benefit of this device is that it bypasses the middle ear and ear canal, sending vibrations directly to the inner ear (cochlea), which is critical for patients who have had frequent ear infections or damage to the ear bone,” says Dr. Marzo.
The system, a new category of bone conduction hearing solutions, includes an exterior processor, which magnetically attaches to a surgically implanted receiver/stimulator. The processor captures exterior sounds, sending them to the receiver, which decodes and delivers the vibrations directly to the cochlea. The receiver was surgically implanted underneath Mr. Kerkman’s scalp late last year—an outpatient procedure done under mild sedation. He then returned to Loyola Medicine in 2020 to receive the exterior processor, which matches Mr. Kerkman’s hair colour.
Dr. Marzo turned on the system, “and boom, I could hear. I could actually hear shoes shuffling on the carpet.” He says the device is “life altering. I have the ability to hear 360 again.” Mr. Kerkman says he can easily and painlessly remove and magnetically reattach the exterior component to the interior implant. The device is controlled through a mobile phone application which allows him to modulate sound, and when necessary, diminish background noise. “It’s been very easy. There have been no functionality problems; no frustration in trying to learn the new technology. When I’m at work, I don’t think about it at all.” The exterior processor is often “a conversation piece,” says Mr. Kerkman. “But I’m glad people can see it because now I can share my story.”
Mr. Kerkman also lauded Dr. Marzo, who was confident that the new system would restore his hearing. “When you go to see your doctor, and he lights up talking about a new treatment, you know you’re involved in something special.” Mr. Kerkman is one of just three recipients in Illinois and 15 in the U.S., to date, to receive the new implants