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.