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New centre provides sound after silence

Published: 
23 January 2008

New state-of-the art facilities for one of the University of Southampton’s most famous research centres were officially opened by HRH the Earl of Wessex this week.

The Institute of Sound and Vibration Research (ISVR) at the University of Southampton is Europe’s leading centre for research, teaching and consultancy in sound and vibration. For over forty years the Institute has worked on the interface between technology and humans, playing a major part in making aircraft quieter, developing more efficient cochlear implants for people with hearing loss, and improving sound systems. In 2006 it was awarded the Queen’s Anniversary Prize.

To take the Institute’s internationally important work forward in the 21st century, a new £6 million purpose-built facility has been constructed on the University’s Highfield Campus.

‘This excellent new building provides specialist clinical facilities and new laboratories for ISVR’s cochlear implant centre and research related to human responses to sound and vibration, areas in which the University has an excellent global reputation,’ comments ISVR Director, Professor Steve Elliott.

The new building will provide much needed facilities and space for the expansion of the ISVR South of England Cochlear Implant Centre, where children and adults with severe-profound hearing loss receive life-changing technology allowing them to communicate via speaking and listening.

Julie Brinton, Joint Head of the South of England Cochlear Implant Centre (SOECIC) at the University, says:

‘Cochlear implants provide a sensation of hearing for people who cannot obtain useful benefit from conventional hearing aids. The ISVR South of England Cochlear Implant Centre assesses the benefit that patients could derive from a cochlear implant, arranges for the surgical implant to be carried out and then trains the patient to use the system over a period of about a year.

‘Rehabilitation is required after implantation to promote optimal benefit from the device, especially in the case of young children who may never have heard before. Younger and younger patients, some as young as 12 months old, are receiving implants, since these children get the greatest benefit from the device by learning to use it at a critical period in their development.’

Ella Holden-Brown

Helen Long’s daughter, Ella, was diagnosed deaf when she was born and fitted with hearing aids at 11 weeks old but she had no response to them. After nine months, the audiology department at the Royal Hampshire County Hospital in Winchester referred Helen and Ella to the Cochlear Implant Centre at the University of Southampton.

Helen from Chandlers Ford says, ‘On the very first visit to the Centre, Ella responded to sound. They were playing a really loud low-frequency noise which Ella turned round to. It was so loud, and even though I was wearing ear defenders, I jumped out of my seat, which shows what little hearing Ella had.’

Over the next four months the Centre assessed Ella for a cochlear implant. This involved head CT scans, seeing a speech therapist and a teacher of the deaf, having grommets put in her ears and auditory tests.

Ella was 16 months old when she was eligible for the implant but because of ear infections she had to wait until she was 20 months old before the surgical implant could be carried out.

A month after the successful operation, Ella returned to the Centre for initial tuning as the signal received via the implant is not normal hearing and patients require time and training to become accustomed to it.

Ella has had sound now for 18 months. Helen says, ‘She’s doing fantastically and it has completely exceeded our expectations. Children’s responses to the operation can be varied but Ella is coming on in leaps and bounds.

‘It’s like watching a flower opening and blooming and she’s always coming out with different things each day. She now says sentences with four or five words in such as “Daddy sit down play Ella”, or “Ella sit down watch TV”, or “Mummy hepple (help) dolly hair”. This is the equivalent of a two-year old’s speech development, which is appropriate language development for Ella, as she has only been hearing for 18 months.’

Helen continues, ‘I never thought I would hear her speak and say “Mummy”. She was such a quiet child before the implant, but it has made all the difference to our lives. To be able to sit with her and have a conversation is fantastic and she can also talk to her brother Joe.

‘Ella does everything a three-year old does – she loves to play with her dolls and her friends, she loves pink sparkly things and is going to pre-school. She has an educational statement to give her extra support and she has lots of people looking after her so her educational development can continue. We don’t want to feel her education will be compromised because she is deaf, we want her to meet her full potential.’

Helen is in no doubt what difference the Centre has made to all their lives. ‘They’ve been the difference, without them Ella wouldn’t have access to speech and hearing. They always have so much time for us each time we visit. They’ve had such a huge impact on the lives of other children and adults.’

John Lassman

John Lassman, 56, from Oakley in Basingstoke, started to lose his hearing in 1981 and about six years later was diagnosed being profoundly deaf. He used hearing aids, sometimes two at a time but they did not help and he stopped using them 10 years ago. From then he relied solely on lip reading and the occasional finger spelling from his wife Coralie and their children.

The implant process began when he was referred to the SOECIC in 2004 by the Ear, Nose and Throat team at Basingstoke and North Hampshire Hospital. He undertook 14 months of intensive testing and upon completion he was found to be suitable for a cochlear implant and was operated on 22 April 2005.

John says, ‘I then had a six-week wait before I had the initial tuning, which meant I couldn’t hear anything but as I was profoundly deaf it didn’t affect me as much as someone who had partial hearing. Then on 6 June I was finally ‘switched on’ and I haven’t looked back since. I was very lucky and the implant worked from the start. I had no problems with speech and I could follow what the audiologist and my wife were saying.

‘When a person goes deaf after 30 years of hearing you start to withdraw from life, but since the operation and switch-on I have gained enormous self confidence and have really come out of my shell. I now interact with strangers and can use the telephone which I hadn’t done since the late 1980s. I also listen to music and I can plug into an MP3 player and enjoy all the music I did before I went deaf. After being reliant on my wife for so many things, it is absolutely fantastic to be able to communicate and do things on my own, such as going shopping,’ he says.

‘The Centre and its staff are amazing and I offer my complete and utter thanks for everything they have done for me. The care and attention have been fantastic and although I only go back about once a year for my check up and tuning, I still feel part of a very close-knit family. I can’t say enough good things about the impact they have had on my life and other people in similar situations.’

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