The difference a sound makes: a Superior man's experience with a cochlear implant

Brady Savoy seems like your average guy. He drives a truck, he likes bowling, and, as of two years ago, he can hear. Savoy, 27, was born deaf. In Feb. 2010, he got a cochlear implant. Cochlear implant

“I originally wore hearing aids,” Savoy said. “But cochlear implants allow me to hear more and differentiate between sounds.”

Savoy, who is from Superior, Wis. had the surgery at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“There was a lot of prep work,” he said. “I have probably visited the Mayo Clinic five or six times during the entire thing—from diagnostics, tests, surgery, and post-surgery operations to ensure everything is okay.”

The implant picks up sound with the external processor on Savoy’s head, which sends a signal to the internal processor. The internal processor is a “tentacle-like” device that is inserted directly into and stimulates the cochlea, the auditory part of the inner ear that translates sound into neural signals, and “voila, sound!”

Savoy wanted the implant not only to hear better, but also to improve his communication with other people.

“I know ASL (American Sign Language) and SEE (Signing in Exact English), but it would be nice not to have to lip read to understand people.”

Since hearing and speaking are still relatively new to Savoy as he refers to his ears as “being in preschool,” the majority of his communication is done through writing. Savoy hopes to change that with the cochlear device.

Brady Savoy

“My doctor said that it would take roughly two to three years or more of practice,” he said. “I’ve thought about getting a speech pathologist or therapist, but most [practice] is day to day stuff.”

Savoy wore hearing aids off and on since he was an infant. They helped him hear, but they didn’t pick up quieter sounds and things were hard to understand. The cochlear device lets Savoy hear much more, but that isn’t always a good thing.

“I have to learn to tune out sounds I do not want to hear because there is so much more I can hear now—such as clocks ticking—that I couldn’t hear before,” Savoy said. “All these sounds and people talking is distracting. Sometimes I take [the device] off to focus more, but I really should not do that.”

Savoy has a remote that allows him to adjust the volume and sensitivity of the implant. There are different profiles he can choose four different situations: “everyday,” which picks up all sounds; “focus,” which quiets background noise and picks up sounds in front of Savoy; “music,” which picks up everything but makes pitches more varied; and “noise,” which is intended to pick up

Cochlear implant remote

sounds in loud environments.

“The first time, it was like everything that people said—including my voice, family, friends, and everyone else—was just ‘noise;’ I couldn’t make anything out,” he said. “After a while, though, I finally got used to certain voices based on what they sound like and eventually learned what some sounds are.

“The weirdest sound for me at first, I think was probably some birds that were on a bird feeder and making noise—I had absolutely no clue what it was. I often have to ask what a sound is to another person to that I can recognize it correctly.”

Savoy said he dislikes high pitched sounds, such as blenders. He laughed over the sound of the Starbucks barista blending up yet another iced coffee drink.

Aside from the obvious “hearing” aspect of the surgery, Savoy said his life really hasn’t changed much.

“Some people try to talk to me more and it’s easier to understand. The only ‘new’ daily routine is putting [the device] on and changing batteries. When I go bowling, hearing all of the bowling calls crashing into the lane and pins was extremely distracting at first, but I have to learn to get used to it.”

While learning how to distinguish sounds and communicate vocally has been frustrating for Savoy, he is happy with the improvements he has made and has set positive goals for himself.

“I expect to be able to understand people with less lip reading and more background noise. Currently, background noise really interferes. Also, my doctor has told me that talking on the phone would be next to impossible since I got the implant so late, but I would like to work towards that. I can only get better with experience.”

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