Heating Loss - Tune In Tuesday

Choosing a Cochlear Implant brand. #tuneintuesday

I thought I would put a little update on here about John’s hearing loss and moving forward with cochlear implant surgery. It has been a crazy few weeks in our house with decisions to be made, doctor appointments, brand rep meetings, etc. and my brain is about maxed out. I am a 5 on the enneagram, so naturally I want to know anything and everything about all that this surgery entails. I also want to know all the facts about the brands, so we can make the best decision for John and our family. Basically this translates to I’m a little obsessive over the research, but that’s my life with anything I do so I guess I’m used to it. Natural birth, breastfeeding, teaching reading/phonics, breast cancer, double mastectomy surgery, nutrition and cancer, a plant-based diet, speech therapy, audio verbal therapy, and now this – hearing loss and cochlear implant surgery.

I’m going to attempt to explain our “brand picking” process and what it all has entitled in the past month. There are 3 cochlear implant brands that a candidate can choose from: Med-el, Cochlear Americas, and Advanced Bionics. None of them are better than the others necessarily when providing access to sound, but they each have their strengths that make it difficult to choose from because they all do not have the same functions. They are all great and whichever one we pick I know we will love, but our decision can’t be changed after surgery. Whichever brand we pick for John will be with him for life. What a huge decision!

I want to explain the three brands and what sticks out to us the most because one day I want to look back on this and see where the brand has come from and how thankful we are the we chose the one we did. We have almost no clue which one we are going to choose yet. My husband and I are not seeing eye to eye completely on which brand to choose, but I appreciate that because its helped us have meaningful conversations about why we may like one more than the other.

Med-El – They are the smallest company. They have complete MRI compatibility. Since the magnet is implanted in your head, the other two brands cannot sustain an MRI with the highest strength without head protection. This could be a problem if John ever needs an MRI in the future. Med-El has an off the ear option which is something we want as an option for John if he ever wants it in the future for cosmetic purposes. They’ve never had a medical recall (the other two companies have, but it was 7 and 10 years ago). This company appeals to me because they are very scientific in their approach to research and development.

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L to R in the picture above – off the ear processor worn alone, behind the ear processor with cable connecting coil to magnet underneath the skin on skull, then the thing on the far right is the implant/magnet that will be under his skin and attached straight to his cochlea. *image from medel.com*

Cochlear Americas – They’ve been around the longest (I think). They are the only company (at the moment) with completely wireless/streaming capabilities which makes it easy to change programs, update, find a lost processor, etc. They have the newest processor on the market and the smallest. This is a big deal because all CIs are BULKY and John is 3. He will essentially be wearing the same size processor as an adult would wear, so we like the idea of a smaller one. They also have an off the ear option like Med-El. We also like their accessory called the mini-mic2+. It’s like a portable microphone that we can take with us so that ambient noise is drowned out and he can focus on the person talking. I would wear it and it streams straight to his CIs. This would be a great option to use in many places: driving in the car, going to the playground/zoo/anywhere thats noisy to get his attention when I need him, in a restaurant (it can be sat in the middle of the table so that he can hear everyone more easily with an amplification boost), and in the classroom (the teacher would wear it so her voice is more pronounced and he can stay focused). The biggest problem with CI kids is noise. Artificial hearing devices do not naturally filter out noise as well as our own ears. Its pretty incredible how our ears are naturally able to do it. CI companies have tried their best to mimic this environment to create optimal hearing with CIs, but its still not ideal. We like the mini-mic accessory because it is portable and not very expensive if it gets lost.

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This is a picture of the different parts of a processor that sits behind the ear and the magnet/coil attaches to the implant underneath his skin. *Image from cochlear.com*

Advanced Bionics – I’ll start with my most favorite thing about this company, the water accessory. They have a processor that is completely waterproof. I love this because we are around water 24/7 when its warm and I feel like this option is very compatible with our family right now. Since John will have one CI and one hearing aid for now, their CI is compatible with his current hearing aid. Unfortunately, they do not have an off the ear option right now or bluetooth streaming. They have an accessory similar to Cochlear’s mini-mic that is (in my opinion) an amazing device. The problem is this device, Roger Pen, is 12 times the cost of the mini-mic (I had to do the math!). This is not a device that we would have double of or let John carry from place to place, but the sound quality is amazing and it would be covered by insurance with AB. Its a FM system that he would use in noisy places and acts like a microphone (same as mini-mic). If we don’t go with this company, the good thing is the “Roger system” is compatible with all three brands and has similar working accessories we could purchase, just not the Roger pen.

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Naida on the left is the sound processor and coil for everyday wear and Neptune on the right is a completely waterproof processor that works just like the Naida. *image from advancedboinics.com*

Our decision process has mainly been about these things: future development, minimalist design/what it will look like cosmetically, ease of use for John with other devices, water play capabilities (they all have options, I just talked about my favorite with AB but the other two have ones that are fine too), sound quality/consistency, durability because he’s a 3 year old toddler wearing a $10,000+ device everyday, and accessories available to support John in the mainstream classroom. As of now, we plan and hope for him to go to a public school with his friends in a regular education classroom for kindergarten.

Well, that’s about it. I tried to keep it brief, but that is never my strength. 😉 I had so much more that I could add about every brand, but these are the main bullet points that will help us choose a brand… which has to be tomorrow (a month out from surgery). Yikes!

Stay tuned!

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