My story begins in 2011 when I discovered I had an acoustic neuroma. I suddenly lost my hearing in the right ear. Next came an MRI, appointments at Sunnybrook Hospital, and the decision to Wait and See . . .
In September 2014, I had surgery to remove the tumour using the translabyrinthine approach. The result, successful removal!!! However, this meant that my balance nerve* was also removed, and I was left with single-sided deafness [a necessary result of translab surgery].
Jump forward to early 2015: after researching various options to help with my lost hearing on the right side, I came across the Bonebridge Bone Conduction by Med-EL. The Bonebridge, an active bone conduction implant, is inserted under the skin on the tumour side of your head, and an external SAMBA audio processor is magnetically coupled to the implant’s coil.
How Does it Work?
In a person with normal hearing, sound vibrations are sent through the outer and middle parts of the ear and on to the inner ear.
If you have single-sided deafness like me, the BONEBRIDGE can pick up the sound vibrations on your bad side and send them through to your inner ear on the good side. This results in much-improved hearing on the damaged side.
The system consists of the SAMBA Audio Processor and a Bone Conduction Implant.
The audio describes conductive or mixed hearing loss, which is where your outer (or middle ear) is damaged, but your inner ear to hearing nerve is intact. As I had single-sided deafness and my inner ear to the hearing nerve was not intact, sending the signal to the damaged side’s inner ear would not work. But it does work when sent to the inner ear of the “good side”, which has an intact inner ear to hearing nerve connection.
What Does This Mean for the Wearer?
I would like to note the BONEBRIDGE Bone Conduction Implant surgery I had in 2015 was a quick one, about one hour. It went very well with no ill side effects.
I remember driving home with my wife, and we decided to stop for lunch at my favourite breakfast place. It was EXTREMELY noisy and normally that would have hurt and been intolerable. I sat there and could not believe how well I was handling the noise all around me. That is a most welcome benefit of the implant with an audio processor.
The other thing I noticed after months of wearing it was that I was not as tired by midday. As many of you know, when you are deaf on one side, trying to hear people talking and make out what they are saying is very tiring. It was significantly better with this device.
Also, the device attaches easily as it has a simple magnetic coupling, and the implant is completely under the skin, so no infections, irritation, and so forth. Batteries are about 25 cents apiece, last a week, and are easy to replace.
Finally, the audio processor can be upgraded. This is a particularly nice benefit as new features, better processing, etc., become available. Although the device is not perfect, it is comfortable, works well in picking up sounds and pretty good overall.
The biggest downside I find is that while the Bonebridge picks up sound on my deaf side, the volume I get is perhaps 20% or so. I wish it were closer to the volume I hear on the good side.
Sometimes it has fallen off, even with the safety clip, and at a cost of approximately $5500, you do not want that happening too much!!
The audio processor is capable of using wireless and Bluetooth, but through another external device, the Siemens MiniTek. I found it worked well with some things such as a personal mic headset my wife wears and listening to the TV with a transmitter attached. But, all in all, it is more trouble than it is worth to continually set up the equipment to make it work. Needless to say, I don’t use it that way much anymore.
Wearing the device with hats is somewhat problematic as you must play with the fit of your hat, and usually, there is still some feedback, which can be a bit bothersome. You also need to be careful to not wear it into the shower, swimming, etc. I have got it wet on occasion and, fortunately, it held up quite well.
The Net Results
In summary, the Bonebridge has allowed me to handle day to day life much better. I am less tired, have better speech discrimination, and I’m much better able to handle noisy environments.
Determine what support is available for hearing devices in your province from an audiologist/hearing devices specialist.