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Date: 10 April 2020

Time: 03:03

Jon Hart's story

When Jon Hart had an accident during a visit to Australia his life changed for ever and he was left profoundly deaf. With medical technology and expertise from the specialists at UHB, Jon is living life to the full.

In June 2006 Jon, an avid cricket fan, flew to Australia where he planned to attend a friend’s wedding and spend a few months following the Ashes tour.

All was going well until one night in August on the way home from an evening with friends when Jon slipped and fell backwards, hitting his head on the kerb. That was the last thing Jon remembered before waking in up in a hospital bed thousands of miles away from home. When he awoke the doctors in the hospital told Jon he had fractured his skull in three places, and that he had damaged his neck. Over the next few days they carried out tests on Jon to find out the extent of the damage he had sustained to his brain and spinal chord.

Jon noticed he had a problem with his hearing and described it like having your head under water – he could still hear but it was muffled. X-rays showed that his right ear had been damaged by the accident and that his cochlear had fractured, some cerebrospinal fluid had leaked and the nerves in the inner ear had been irreversibly damaged. Jon had been confirmed deaf in one ear.

Further X-rays showed that the cochlear in Jon’s left ear had also been fractured, but by sheer luck he was still able to hear in this ear.

Jon spent the next few weeks in a hospital in Melbourne before being transferred to a rehabilitation unit where he stayed for three weeks. During his time in rehab Jon had to learn how to walk without his main sense of balance. “Your body has three ways of orientating itself – one is by sight, the second by gravity or touching the ground and the most important way is using the inner ear," explains Jon, “When you take one of these elements away it is really difficult to orientate yourself and keep your balance.”

In December 2006, a month after leaving hospital Jon developed a cold. This seemed to be the last straw for his left ear and when blowing his nose one day, Jon lost his ability to hear in the left ear too. “It wasn’t until I coughed that I realised I couldn’t actually hear myself coughing, and that is when I knew something was wrong," recalls Jon. “My friend asked me if I was OK but I couldn’t hear him, in fact I couldn’t hear anything at all, I could just see his lips moving.”

Jon went back to the hospital where he stayed for a month before he was able to fly back to the UK. Once home Jon saw a specialist at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, one of the leading cochlear implant centres in the UK, who recommended that he undergo a procedure to have cochlear implants.

Jon received bilateral cochlear implants in May 2007 in a five-hour operation. “The four weeks between having them implanted and having them switched on was the longest four weeks of my life. If the procedure hadn’t worked I would be unable to hear forever; I wouldn’t be able to use hearing aids, so I was quite nervous about what the result would be but I kept positive and when Dr Cooper switched them on it was amazing!”

A cochlear implant cannot restore normal hearing, but it can provide significant hearing benefit ranging from an increase in environmental sound awareness to being able to use the telephone again.

“At first everyone sounded a bit like a machine,” recalled Jon, “but over a few sessions my implants were tuned and now I have really good hearing. I am able to use the phone and I can recognise people’s voices.”

The adult service of the Midlands Cochlear Implant Programme is based at University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) and was established in 1990. Louise Craddock, Cochlear Implant Programme Manager and Chair of the British Cochlear Implant Group, said: “We have successfully implanted well over 400 severe to profoundly deaf adults from a wide region, some of them in both ears like Jon. There are just 20 specialist cochlear implant centres in the UK, and with our sister paediatric service at Birmingham Children’s Hospital we are one of the biggest implant programmes in the country.

“Our patients, like Jon, all have a permanent severe to profound hearing loss and get limited benefit from conventional hearing aids. A cochlear implant gives our patients the chance of better hearing. We also offer a highly specialist auditory brainstem implant to patients who have lost their hearing nerves through disease or injury.”

A cochlear implant system has two parts: the internal electrode array is surgically inserted into the organ of hearing (cochlea) under a general anaesthetic. The operation lasts two to three hours (longer for two implants) and is performed under a microscope, as the structures are very delicate. After three to four weeks' healing time, the patient is fitted with the external components. The patient wears an external speech processor at ear level. The processor connects across the skin to the internal components via a magnetic headpiece. The initial fitting of the speech processor is known as the “switch-on” and this is when the patient first hears through their implant. A period of adjustment is required to get used to the new electronic hearing. Intensive rehabilitation is provided by the team during this time.

Jon has had his life transformed by the work of the team and is now studying a degree in geography at the University of Wolverhampton.

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