Her eyes are wet with tears. She is worried. You can see that she is uncomfortable. She wants to be picked up. She cries to you. She does not like being on the cold hospital bed. She do not know the people around her. She is your ten-months-old daughter. In just a few minutes, the doctor is going to give her the anaesthesia, before making the incision into her skull.
”It’ll be alright, honey”, you tell her. You know she cannot hear you, but you hope that she can sense it.
The doors close behind the surgeon.
And what happens behind those doors is a small miracle. Because when your daughter comes out of surgery, wakes up, and has her new cochlear implant activated, you look at her and say ”I told you it would be alright”. This time she hears you.
”We’re basically in the business of making people cry”, says Jes Olsen, President of Oticon Medical and one of the driving forces behind the Neuro2 – the processor that is part of the most advanced Cochlear Implant System in the world, and the first to be produced by a Danish company. And he means it in the best of ways, because when people experience a cochlear implant for the first time that is what they do. They cry. Streaming tears of joy, of being overwhelmed, of experiencing the world for the first time all over again.
About the Neuro 2
The Neuro 2 sound processor combines design excellence with ease of use and premium sound quality. Designed with attention to detail, Neuro 2 provides quality and reliability for patients regardless of age and lifestyle. Sound quality is secured with a strong focus on supporting the way the brain works and to reduce listening effort. Supporting BrainHearing™, Neuro 2 is designed for a life of learning, interaction and active participation.
The parents cry too, of course. They have put the health of their child into the hands of others, in the hope of giving their child the gift of hearing. It takes trust. A lot of trust. Oticon Medical is perfectly aware of that.
Using the expertise from the manufacturing of hearing aids, they have developed a Cochlear implant system that is not only smaller on the outside – but under the skin, it’s a whole new game as well. In the old days you needed to dig a cavity into the skull, to anchor it. With the Neuro Zti implant, that is no longer necessary, reducing surgery time by as much as more than half an hour. And less time in anaesthesia means less risk. Less risk is definitely good when it is your child on the surgeon’s table.
And it goes beyond looking at immediate risks. In the future, everyone will have to go through an MRI machine at some point. An MRI is basically a very big magnet, and when you have a magnet implanted in your skull that can result in significant pain, as the magnet wants to flips around under your skin, damaging the implant as well. The Neuro Cochlear Implant System makes sure that that is a thing of the past, utilising an architecture that holds the magnet safely in place. And yet, the implant is incredibly thin.
Oticon Medical also spends untold amounts making the devices more comfortable – the Neuro2 sound processor is at the most critical point one-third the width of their nearest competitor – to make sure that the user can wear the devices all day without any discomfort. Hearing aids companies are the best in the world at making wearable microelectronics, micro-batteries and devices that are cosmetically inconspicuous. And at Oticon Medical, they intend to excel at it.
”When you implant a cochlear implant, you have a customer for life. That comes with a huge responsibility”, Jes explains and goes on to describe what that means to Oticon Medical.
Having a customer for life is a big deal, when your customer is only ten months old. And surgery will always be a risk. So Oticon Medical has made sure that they can test the device during surgery, so they don’t risk to have to redo it. Once it is in, the device has a very long lifespan. Fundamentally it will in most cases work for life – but realistically at some point it will no longer able to take advantage of new updates and new features.
All that results in a success rate of 99.8% after two years.
The natural inclination of any parent would probably be to wait until the child is older, before having to go through surgery. But that would be a bad idea.
“We have to get the implant in as early as possible. The child develops at an exponential rate in the first years its life. Exponential development means that some doors for speech development close at certain times. Some of them already at the age of a few years. And we are not really in the business of making a child hear. What we want to do is to make the child speak. That is the challenge and a step further than just hearing. Most children implanted at young age are able to go to normal schools and get a normal education”, Jes explains as he holds the miniature device in his hands. “The device grows with the child. So as the child grows larger, the device stretches in all the right places”.
Stretching in the right places is crucial. The tolerances in the cochlear is minuscule. One mistake and you risk puncturing or damaging the sensitive nerves. The surgeons today are incredibly skilled, therefore this only happens very rarely. But what happens when the child grows and the cochlear grows? That is just the thing. It does not. The cochlear is fully developed at birth – and that means that once the implant is in, the electrode will stay in. For life if you wish, but more likely, 25-30 years, when technology has evolved enough to make upgrades and updates significant enough to warrant going into surgery again.
So what lies ahead for Cochlear Implants? Ask anyone in the business, and they will give you the same answer: Hearing pitch. As it is now, the users have trouble distinguishing between tones within an octave and following the pitch of a voice. We use pitch when we answer a question, so it is a big part of becoming more adept at following conversations. What users want more than that though, is the ability to enjoy music. We would like to be the ones achieving that for our users says Jes Olsen. It is not an easy task but that is exactly why we are spending significant research resources figuring out how to do it.
The Neuro Cochlear Implant System might be the smallest device in the world. But your child is the most precious. So once the surgeon has avoided damaging the facial nerve, the blood flow to the brain and made the incision into the inner ear, setting the implant and closing it all up again, you want that device to never break. “And it almost never does. We try to violently destroy every single component of every single device before we assemble and implant it. Stress tests, temperature tests, impact tests. This device has to survive everything an active child on a playground can throw at it”. Jes underlines the last part. It makes him proud to hold a product that lives up to that level of accountability.
Still not convinced that Cochlear Implants are a small miracle to families all around the world? Watch the video below. But do not start it yet. First get a box of Kleenex, then start watching. You are going to need it.
About Oticon Medical
Oticon Medical is a global company in implantable hearing solutions with headquarters in three locations; Denmark, Sweden and France. The company is dedicated to bringing the magical world of sound to people with severe to profound hearing loss at every stage of life. As a member of one of the world’s largest groups of hearing health care companies, Oticon Medical shares a close link with Oticon and direct access to the latest advances in hearing research and technologies. Its competencies span more than a century of innovations in sound processing and decades of pioneering experience in hearing implant technology.
In Mono is part of Danish Sound Network’s offering to individual members. Every month we put one of our member companies under the spotlight, looking at their innovating technologies and shedding light on the strength of the Danish Sound ecosystem. Want to receive the newsletter and get more articles like this one – and start your free membership? Click here to read more about being a Danish Sound Network member.
Credit: All images used in the article are courtesy of Oticon Medical