Saturday, September 24, 2016

Goodbye, Hearing - Hello, NYU

Life is insanely busy and I don't often update Nolan's blog - but here is my yearly post (ha). Nolan is now 9 years old. We have had an insanely cool summer, visiting Quebec City, Tadoussac to see beluga whales in the wild, and hiking the via ferrata in Ausable Chasm.

Last December, we went to Cleveland Clinic to evaluate Nolan's hearing. At the time, there were some small changes in his left ear (his good ear), but the right ear was largely stable, ranging from 60-90 dB (moderate to severe). His aided thresholds were in the mild-moderate range.

His speech perception using live voice was 80% in the "bad" ear and 100% in the good ear. We knew we would need to upgrade his hearing aids from Bolero Q SP's if his hearing degenerated anymore, but also knew that if his right ear lost more, he might be in the range for a cochlear implant.

Over the summer, we were getting more "whats" and non-responses from Nolan. If he was looking at you, he could understand you. If he wasn't looking at you, he sometimes wouldn't detect that you had spoken. The left side still seemed to be getting sound, but the right ear appeared to have great difficulty. I did the Ling sounds for just the right ear, and the only sound he picked up was "ah."

I knew this meant he had lost additional hearing, and made the call to NYU's cochlear implant program. I wanted an evaluation to get him into the system just in case the right ear had dropped. If he didn't qualify, that would be fine - but I had suspicions that his right ear was losing residual hearing quickly.

They reviewed his audiogram from last December and said he wouldn't be a candidate with that audiogram, but considering his history we should bring him in for an evaluation. We had hotels booked and made the 7 hour drive to New York City (this drive takes longer than 7 hours with traffic, but is still well worth the trip).

NYU performed a full cochlear implant evaluation for Nolan. We first met with the LSLS (Listening and Spoken Language Specialist) and the audiologist who would be testing Nolan's hearing. We explained that we knew he was not a likely candidate, but preferred to err on the side of caution since he had been having difficulty lately and is in the fourth grade - we don't want his academics to suffer if the left ear decides to take a sudden dive and we lose his "good" ear.

The testing was broken up into three days. Each day, Nolan sat in the booth for 90 minutes and performed various listening tasks. Day 1 was the unaided audiogram. I don't have a copy of the audiogram yet, but my suspicions were confirmed. The left ear is largely where it was at Cleveland Clinic (though his speech reception has declined slightly), but the right ear is now profoundly deaf. His best threshold was at 90 dB in the low frequencies, dropping to over 100 dB in the highs (to no response at 8000 Hz). Nolan's speech reception was 48% in the good ear with speech at 85 dB, and was very poor in the right ear (24% at 95 dB).

Suddenly we were no longer "getting into the system," but entering true cochlear implant candidacy evaluations. Cochlear implant candidacy requires a lot more than unaided testing, so we would return the following day for testing in the aided condition.

Nolan really wanted to see the Statue of Liberty while we were in NYC, so we left the clinic to explore Manhattan.

 Taking a cruise to see Lady Liberty

At the World Trade Center on September 12 

We returned to the cochlear implant clinic the following day to repeat a lot of the previous testing, this time with Nolan's hearing aids on. The audiologist said words and sentences, but this time the volume was at 60 dB instead of 95 dB, since he had hearing aids on. His left (good) ear was fantastic - he was able to get a score of 84% in that ear. The right ear, unfortunately, only scored 36% for words and 27% for phonemes, even with a hearing aid on. His right ear, even in the perfect silence of the sound booth, just wasn't really hearing clear speech. His candidacy looked like a surer thing, but they wanted to try one more thing first: more  powerful hearing aids.

Nolan has super power aids which are supposed to accommodate a loss of up to 110 dB in the high frequencies, but he was at or beyond that level unaided. We needed to determine if the Naida UP (the most powerful hearing aid on the market) would bring his aided hearing into the desired range. 

We left the clinic to explore more of New York City, including the Natural History Museum. 


Checking out Times Square

The third day of testing would be the determining factor for whether or not Nolan would qualify for an implant. Nolan had language testing performed (his language skills are insanely high, due to very early intervention and a mother that never shuts up   extensive exposure in the home environment.

He was brought back into the booth, this time with the Naida UP's. The UP hearing aid brought his left ear into the mild range for hearing levels and he obtained 100% speech recognition with it. We were thrilled! The right ear, however, did not fare as well. He was aided to the mild/moderate range with the Naida UP in the right ear. He did improve his speech understanding with the Naida UP, but was still missing half of the speech signal, at 60 dB in quiet (live voice).

This is a tricky situation - as he might do well with the Naida UP hearing aids, but his hearing loss is progressive, the right ear is already profound, and if we continue to wait the left ear will likely drop - leaving him with very poor hearing while trying to navigate the fourth grade. It is also likely the right ear will continue to drop, so we would be spending a significant amount of money (near $8000) for a very brief period of time. There is no telling when the left ear will drop, but it always trails the right ear by a few months to a year. We decided that if he was a candidate, we would proceed with implantation of the right ear. This will give him a "stable" ear (once rehabilitated) in case the left ear decides to take a dive on him in the future.

It was decided that Nolan would be a candidate for a cochlear implant in the right ear, and we were able to look at the three major brands who manufacture the device. Each brand is slightly different, but all serve the same function and operate in the same manner. It is a bit like buying a car - all are reliable and will get you to your destination, but the features vary from model to model. We took home a ton of literature from that appointment and returned to our home in Western NY to figure out which brand we want our son to have - for the rest of his life. While we know they all work just fine (cochlear implant centers wouldn't use a brand that didn't work), we need to determine what the best brand would be for Nolan.

We are returning to NYU tomorrow to meet with Nolan's surgeon. We are bringing Nolan's CT scan and MRI from when he was a baby so we won't have to repeat those tests. The process is long and involved, and we have to get insurance approval, the surgery scheduled, turn on the device, program the device, and do a lot of auditory-verbal-therapy to help his brain learn to use the signal generated by the implant. While it will take some time for him to adjust to it, his hearing will be better with the cochlear implant than it will be with his hearing aid. 

1 comment:

Michelle Dunn said...

Really exciting news! Not sure how I missed your annual update. I think that's about how often I'm posting too, but should try harder. So much to say, so little time, or just focusing energies elsewhere, I suppose. I'll be following the CI updates, for sure!