June 2018 Med-El Press Release

For the very first time in New Zealand, the expertise and skills required to undertake the pioneering auditory brainstem implant surgery is now available through the ABI Programme offered by Dr Michel Neeff, Clinical Director Starship Children's Hospital, and his team, including neurosurgeon Dr Peter Heppner. Until now, anyone requiring this life changing surgery has faced extensive overseas travel, which for many has placed this procedure significantly out of reach. “ABI surgery is the standard of care for hearing rehabilitation in NF2 in most developed countries. There are also non-tumour patients who cannot be rehabilitated by any other means. We have the expertise and skill in NZ now. No patient who meets criteria for brainstem implantation should miss out on this opportunity.” Dr Michel Neeff

Dr Michael NeefDr Neeff first observed the difference an ABI could make to patients during his fellowship in the UK in 2006. It was on his return to NZ when he observed little support for the device/surgery, noting that even today there remains little funding for it. It was his persistence and determination however, after coming across many suitable candidates in his daily practice who could benefit, desperate to be able to hear even a little, that prompted him to apply for both special funding as well as engage in specialist training in Fulda, Germany by Prof Behr. The excellent hearing outcome of the first patient (2014) provided the encouragement to support further patients in receiving ABIs.

In the programme’s first week (March 2018), 6 life changing surgeries were undertaken with recipients ranging in ages from 4 years to 57 years old, and with varying histories and medical conditions, including vestibular schwannoma (tumour), Goldenhar syndrome and multiple central meningioma’s - all patients receiving a MED-EL Synchrony ABI.

An ABI implant can improve the quality of life for patients who are unable to use conventional cochlear implants.” Robyn Shakes, Managing Director, MED-EL Implant Systems Australasia.

Years of planning and lobbying for funding approval culminated in Dr Neeff and his team performing 6 intensive surgeries across a mere 5 days. With two of these patients requiring a tumour removal first, this resulted in very long days, but most importantly in some very successful initial outcomes, including sound detection after 21 years without hearing, a reduction in debilitating tinnitus, hearing mum say hello on the telephone, and man’s best friend barking for the very first time.

“Cochlear Implants and ABIs are life changing devices. To see patients hear again or to learn to hear is extremely rewarding. None of the other senses can be corrected in the way that hearing can. That is special.” Dr Neeff and his team look forward to supporting other patients who may benefit from this in the future.

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