June 2019 Go.Erie.com
Bindu Dasari covered her mouth with a laminated piece of paper and slowly spoke the names of four different colors. The Erie audiologist asked Debi Bartosek to repeat each one. Dasari covered her mouth because Bartosek has significant hearing loss and can read lips. “Red,” Dasari said. “Red,” Bartosek repeated. “Yellow.” “Yellow.” “Orange.” “Orange.” “Pink.” “Pink.”
“Perfect! You got them all,” Dasari said. “Woo-hoo!” Bartosek said.
The hearing test came just minutes after Dasari turned on Bartosek’s cochlear implant, a device the 65-year-old Springfield Township woman had implanted in her right ear in May at Saint Vincent Hospital. She was one of the first three people to undergo the procedure in Erie.
Bartosek’s hearing loss had developed over the past 25 years. She doesn’t know if it was caused by listening to loud music on headphones, being around all-terrain vehicles or something else. “I can hear OK if we’re one-on-one in a quiet room and I can see your face,” Bartosek said. “But if we’re in a room full of people and there is noise, or I can’t see your face, I can’t hear you. I can’t use a phone. I text or email.”
Northwestern Pennsylvania patients used to have to travel to Pittsburgh, Cleveland or Buffalo for the procedure and up to 10 office visits the first year. Now they can be done at Saint Vincent. Sidney Lipman, M.D., an otolaryngologist with ETN Specialists, had worked with his partners for years to bring these procedures to Erie. He succeeded when neurotologists from Pittsburgh Ear Associates agreed to perform them at Saint Vincent every other month.
“What we did in the past was diagnose a patient as needing a cochlear implant and send them to Pittsburgh,” Lipman said. “We wouldn’t see them again. Now they can have the procedure in Erie and we follow up their care here in the office.”
Bartosek probably would have undergone the procedure in Pittsburgh or Cleveland but she was thrilled to have it done in Erie. Hearing loss has changed her life significantly. It made it almost impossible to do her job as a receptionist for the former Presbyterian Homes of Erie and later with H&R Block. “I couldn’t use the phone,” said Bartosek, who is now retired. “It’s affected me in other ways, too. I get nervous even about going for a walk because I can’t hear traffic behind me.”
Bartosek’s finance, Jody Bateman, said the hearing loss has also caused communication problems between the couple. “We travel a lot in our RV and she can’t hear me very well when we’re driving,” Bateman said. “So she ends up on Facebook and we just don’t talk.” It will take weeks, perhaps months, for Bartosek to adjust to using a cochlear device. When Dasari turned it on, the voices Bartosek heard sounded “tinny and robotic.”
That is typical for patients who first use the device, Dasari said. “To go from not hearing well at all to hearing all of these voices, it sometimes takes months for a person’s brain to process all this new information,” Dasari said. “Out of the three patients who received the implants, Debi is doing the best. She has a great dynamic range with her hearing and she heard 100 percent of the words.”
Bartosek is scheduled to return to ETN Specialists in July to have the device tweaked, including having her smartphone linked to it so she can hear phone calls more clearly. Currently, she forwards all calls to voice mail. “I can’t wait until I can talk on the phone,” Bartosek said. “I want to call my sister and talk to her. I want to participate in conversations. When I was younger, I was outgoing and very social. I think the hearing loss has made me regress. I want to do those things again.”