Improvements to cochlear implants could make them more accessible

Reporter: Amy Oshier Writer: Drew Hill
Published: Updated:
Toni and son, Gian

A cochlear implant is a device that can help someone hear.

But, for years, the devices have not been compatible with MRI machines. This is because these devices rely on magnets and MRI machines operate on magnetic fields.

So, thanks to improvements, these implants are now an option for patients who couldn’t use them before. A person says this implant with its changes is now producing life-changing results.

Toni Iacolucci’s struggle with hearing started 25 years ago when a no-cancerous tumor blocked the hearing in her right ear. Then, in 2006 she went to her son’s high school band concert and, for that night, didn’t wear earplugs.

“So, I was unplugged, and I went home that night, and it was, you know, I was having a hard time hearing,” Iacolucci said. Doctors do not know why but one week later, the hearing in her left ear was gone.

Shortly after that, her son, Gian Stone, began to rise in the music world. He produced songs for Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and the Jonas Brothers. Gian took his mother to GRAMMY Awards in 2019, but Iacolucci couldn’t hear the music clearly even with a hearing aid.

“It was such a big part of his life. And I couldn’t be a part of it anymore,” said Iacolucci.

Joseph Montano is a professor of audiology in clinical otolaryngology at Weill Cornell School of Graduate Medical Sciences. “Hearing impairment is much more complex than just the idea of, oh, you know, you have a little problem hearing, let’s put a hearing aid in, and everything will be fine,” said Montano.

For years, other options were excluded. Toni needed yearly MRIs to monitor the tumor near her right ear, so she couldn’t go into the machine with a cochlear implant.

But then, a new design allowed the magnet in the device to twist and reorient when the magnet was exposed to the magnetic field in the scanner.

Toni had the device implanted last January. Once she healed from surgery, things were much better. “We turned it on. How does your voice sound to you? Amazing!”

Now, Toni can be a part of the conversation at a crowded family dinner and can hear and appreciate her son’s songs.

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