For 22 years – Rebecca Hicks’entire life until this week – the college senior who group up in the Philadelphia suburbs could only hear out of her left ear.
She was born with an underdeveloped right ear and while she possessed the mechanisms in her inner ear to hear correctly, she had no ear canal to capture and deliver the sound. As an infant she had several surgeries to cosmetically construct a normal looking, albeit non-working normal ear.
This week Rebecca was fitted for the SoundBite hearing device, a new device for unilateral (one-sided) hearing loss that does not require surgery. She is one of the first people in the region to receive the device.
“This will truly allow her to hear normally,” he says.
While her hearing has not held her back, Rebecca is excited to by the prospect of gaining the use of her right ear, but it hasn’t prevented her from maintaining an active social life, taking horseback rides, and aspiring to become a veterinarian.
“I’ve learned to compensate for it,” says Rebecca. “The only time I really have trouble is in loud places with noise coming from many directions.”
That wasn’t a big enough problem for her to opt for the only remedy for single-sided hearing loss before now, which required having a titanium post surgically implanted in skull.
As the first non-surgical option, the new device was viable option for Rebecca – and potentially for others in similar circumstances.
The device consists of a dental appliance—a removable retainer made specifically for Rebecca’s teeth—worn on the upper back teeth on the good-ear side of the mouth and a behind-the-ear (BTE) earpiece with a small microphone that is inserted into the ear canal of the deaf ear that will serve to amplify sound.
The device picks up sound in the ear canal of the deaf ear via the BTE. The sound is wirelessly transmitted to the mouthpiece where it vibrates the bone and transmits sound from the teeth through the skull bones and into the cochlea of the good ear, allowing her to hear normally. In this way, sound is re-routed from the impaired ear directly to the good cochlea – bypassing the middle and outer ear entirely – to effectively restore the perception of hearing from her impaired ear.
Rebecca left her appointment hearing the world around her through both ears for the first time.
“It’s awesome,” she says.