In a 60-person study using implants by Med-El, Dillon, along with a research team, looked at whether cochlear implants could improve hearing, speech understanding, sound localisation and quality of life. According to Dillon, Byers, who is a researcher in her own veterinary field, was eager to be part of the study as were other participants. "They wanted to participate in a study that could potentially change the indications in our country and make this available to other patients," Dillon said.
The key to their eventual success, Dillon said, was the research team's great collaboration in designing the study protocol and treatment method. They chose a longer electrode array in an implant in order to provide more stimulation inside the cochlea. "What we were surprised about was that they experienced an early benefit," said Dillon.
Byers remembers her first reaction when the implant was turned on. "It sounded very mechanical, like a computer," she said. The trial included helping patients train their brains. Byers connected the implant through a smart phone or computer and played games and listened to familiar nursery rhymes. It helped her to fuse or blend the mechanical sound of the implant with her natural hearing ear.” Now, everything sounds almost perfectly normal to me," Byers said. "I can hear birds. Birds sound like birds...pianos sound like pianos. It's incredible!"
The study data results led to FDA approval. Now, the cochlear implant option is open to all patients with the same problem Byers once lived with. "And that is so exciting to me -- because lives will be changed by this," said Byers. According to Dillon, the study began with 20 participants, like Byers, who had normal hearing in one ear. Another 20 participants were included who had asymmetrical hearing, or some hearing loss in their better ear. The final 20 participants were children.