I came across this video today that was especially delightful. An 8 month old baby, deaf from birth, had cochlear implants placed in his ears, and this video is his reactions to hearing his mother’s voice for the first time. The delight on this baby’s face says it all!
The cochlear implant itself is something of a miracle, and while it is nothing new, it allows the deaf and hard-of-hearing a way to interact with the world. According to this brochure on cochlear implants from the NIH:
A cochlear implant is a small, complex electronic device that can help to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf or severely hard-of-hearing. The implant consists of an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin (see figure). An implant has the following parts:
- A microphone, which picks up sound from the environment.
- A speech processor, which selects and arranges sounds picked up by the microphone.
- A transmitter and receiver/stimulator, which receive signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses.
- An electrode array, which is a group of electrodes that collects the impulses from the stimulator and sends them to different regions of the auditory nerve.
An implant does not restore normal hearing. Instead, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds in the environment and help him or her to understand speech.
There are people and organizations who believe that if a person is deaf he or she should remain deaf, without the aid of a cochlear implant or whatever. They may also believe that stem cell research is immoral. I cannot agree with this approach. Life is a risk. When we have the ability to cure birth defects, diseases, or disabilities, we should use our technology to help and cure. We do angiography and place stents in arteries to repair damage done by a heart attack, we immunize our children against deadly illnesses – why not bionic ears and eyes, why not new organs grown from stem cells? Let’s improve what we can!