PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -New technology is allowing people to hear things they have never been able to hear before.

At age two, a viral infection took Kelly Schwabenbauer’s hearing. She tried a variety of hearing aids which went over the ear, or in the ear.

“I wasn’t really satisfied with them. A lot of ringing and ear aches,” Schwabenbauer said.

She asked her doctor if there was anything else she could try.

Because she had moderate hearing loss she was a good candidate for a partially implanted device to help her hear. These have become available over the last 10 years.

Just behind the ear drum are three small bones called ossicles. They are attached to the ear drum like a chain. Sound waves hit the ear drum, which causes the ossicles to vibrate. The waves are then converted to nerve impulses in the inner ear, which the brain interprets as sound.

Kelly’s device uses a magnet connected to these bones so they can pick up vibrations.

“The device picks up sound, and turns it into electrical energy, and that electrical energy is passed down to a magnet that vibrates in response to the electrical current,” Allegheny General Hospital Ear Specialist Dr. Douglas Chen said.

In cases where the bones have decayed from infections, for example, the device can be used in clinical trials with the magnet directly on the inner ear.

It requires a two-hour outpatient surgery and costs $10,000 to $15,000, though insurance covers it in some cases.

It runs on hearing aid batteries, which have to be changed every few days.

After Schwabenbauer got hers, she remembers her father whispering behind her in the hospital elevator.

“It’s just amazing that I heard that. I never heard him whisper behind me before. Usually I have to see someone’s face to see that they’re talking to me,” Schwabenbauer said.


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