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YOUR HEALTH: The moment a woman hears again!

Improvements in cochlear implants make them an option for patients who couldn't consider them before.

NEW YORK CITY, N.Y. — A cochlear implant is a device that bypasses damaged portions of the ear and delivers sound signals directly to the hearing nerve. 

For years the devices, which rely on magnets, have not been compatible with MRI machines, which operate on magnetic fields. 

That's had a big impact on people like Toni Lacolucci, whose struggle with her hearing started 25 years ago when a non-cancerous tumor blocked the hearing in her right ear.

Then in 2006, she went to her son's high school band concert and for that night, didn't wear earplugs.

"So, I was unplugged, and I went home that night, and it was, you know, I was having a hard time hearing," she recalled. 

Doctors didn't know why, but one week later the hearing in her left ear was gone.

Shortly after, her son, Gian Stone, began to rise in the music world, producing songs for Arianna Grande, Justin Bieber, and the Jonas Brothers. 

Gian took his mom to the 2019 Grammys. 

Even with a hearing aid, Toni couldn't hear the music clearly.

"It was such a big part of his life. And I couldn't be a part of it anymore," Toni said.

More than a billion young adults are at risk of permanent, avoidable hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices and by the year 2050, nearly 2.5 billion are projected to have some degree of hearing loss.

"Hearing impairment is much more complex than just the idea of, oh, you know, you have a little problem hearing, let's put a hearing aid in, and everything will be fine," said Joseph Montano, a professor of Audiology in Clinical Otolaryngology at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York City.

For years other options were out.

Toni needed yearly MRIs to monitor the tumor near her right ear so she couldn't go into the machine with a cochlear implant. 

But then, a new design allowed the magnet in the device to twist and reorient when exposed to the magnetic field in the scanner. 

Toni had the device implanted last January and now can hear and appreciate her son's songs. 

Hearing aid technology is always advancing and people with severe hearing loss can benefit from a cochlear implant.

"One of the neat parts about continuous improvements to the cochlear implant technology is that the majority of the innovation is housed in the processor (external part), meaning that patients who underwent surgery years ago are able to access many of these latest features," said University of California San Diego Health Sciences Audiologist Meghan Spriggs.

The FDA approved one MRI-compatible cochlear implant late in 2019, and several other FDA approved versions followed.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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