Ending the sound of silence

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Retired doctor Michael Mackay found his world descending into silence last year.

Decades of hearing loss had become steadily worse – he could no longer hear while speaking on the phone, or participate in conversations with more than one person.

“I lost the ability to hear people on the phone, watch television or enjoy simple pleasures like listening to music,” he said.

“It was a very isolating and lonely experience.”

Mr Mackay, 72, has recently become the first person to receive a cochlear implant at Kawana Private Hospital on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast.

He said the procedure had changed his life.

“Now, I can have a proper, one-to-one conversation … I can even hear the ticking of my watch,” Mr Mackay said.

Ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon, Dr Kristy Fraser-Kirk, carried out the procedure.

“One of the main restrictions to receiving health care in this area had been distance, so this new service will be life changing for local residents,” she said.

Mr Mackay said he was delighted to find out he could have the surgery close to home.

“I used to travel to Brisbane for all my hearing aid appointments which easily took up a whole day for me,” he said.

“With the facility being within an hour of my home, I was able to choose a local ENT surgeon which I knew would be convenient for follow-up appointments in the long run.”

Unlike traditional hearing aids, a cochlear implant consists of a surgically implanted device which bypasses the damaged part of the ear and stimulates the hearing nerve directly rather than making sound louder.

Mr Mackay first developed hearing problems as a medical student in the 1960s, as a result of Meniere’s Disease.

For more than 20 years, he regarded his right ear as being “useless” but in recent years, also lost all hearing in his “good” left ear.

Dr Faser-Kirk completed the cochlear implant in his left ear and Mr Mackay’s hearing has been steadily improving since then.

With the new facility opening at Kawana Private Hospital, Dr Fraser-Kirk hoped this would encourage others in the area to consider cochlear implants when hearing aids were no longer enough.

“We all have the right to access care close to home,” she said.

“Patients who start to notice they are losing the beginning and ends of words, whilst wearing hearing aids, is quite common.

“These people need to know that cochlear implants are another alternative and there are financial pathways to receive the treatment for a better quality of life.”

Mr Mackay’s hearing is predicted to continue to improve during coming months.

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