Feb 2018 Bowling Green Daily News
Paul Baird looks forward to the day he can once again hear the birds and crickets chirping. In December, he became the first person to undergo cochlear implant surgery at The Medical Centre at Bowling Green. The implant was done in his right ear. Baird wasn’t completely deaf, but in a noisy room, he could only pick up 4 to 5 percent of the words spoken to him in his right ear. He has 40 percent word recognition in his left ear, according to Dr. Andrew Ebelhar, Baird’s surgeon and the only surgeon in Bowling Green who performs cochlear implants. Baird is one of three people who have had the surgery done in Bowling Green. A fourth patient is scheduled to have the procedure.
“It’s a pretty big deal,” Ebelhar said of the fact the surgery is now offered in Bowling Green.
“In Kentucky, you can get a cochlear implant in Louisville or Lexington. Pretty much everyone in the western part of the state had to go to Vanderbilt (University Medical Centre) if they had insurance that would allow them to do so,” Ebelhar said. “I really wanted to expand this service to western Kentucky.” When he was at the University of Kentucky, he would do the procedure on patients who had to drive four or five hours from the western part of the state.
The travel can be costly because in the first year, patients have to have several appointments with an audiologist for programming. Currently, patients who have the surgery in Bowling Green, have to travel to see an audiologist in Hopkinsville. However, Ebelhar has someone in his practice who is receiving the training to perform that service for cochlear implant patients here. “I knew this was a region that needed someone to do cochlear implants and it was a gap I wanted to fill,” he said.
About two years ago, Baird read about the procedure in a Reader’s Digest magazine. He and his daughter researched the process, and in December, he decided to have the procedure done.
“I’ve had decreased hearing for years,” Baird said. He considered it a significant handicap because he couldn’t pick up a voice in a crowd or hear traffic.
Now his implant has four programs and he is learning to speak again with better hearing. “It’s like a baby learning how to talk,” Baird said. “It doesn’t come back to you all at once.” While he looks forward to hearing the sounds of nature once again, he looks most forward to being able to communicate with his family.
Ebelhar said it takes about 10 to 12 months of persistent use to receive the maximum hearing benefit from the implant. “The brains neurons have to relearn what they are supposed to do,” he said. “With any hearing aid it takes months for that neural circuitry to rehear. Every frequency of sound we hear has a different set of neurons that are in charge of that particular frequency.
“If you’ve lost hearing at high frequency, those high frequency neurons can’t function because they aren’t getting any signal. If you give them signal again, they have to relearn how to process that information.”