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February 27, 2023
When asked what a cochlear implant is, Dr. Alex Lehmann’s response is astounding:
“A cochlear implant is the closest medical equivalent to performing a miracle,” says the cognitive neuroscientist and researcher.
This tiny device, first created in the 1970s, allows the deaf to hear. In Fall 2022, the MUHC became the province’s second hospital to offer cochlear implants. The MUHC Foundation is proud to have funded cochlear implant research at the MUHC, and is excited to offer its continued support for this important program.
“The ability to offer cochlear implants to patients in their own region is life-changing,” says Julie Quenneville, President and CEO of the MUHC Foundation. “We are so pleased to have been part of bringing this important care to Montreal.”
On January 13, 2023, the MUHC performed its first cochlear implant surgery at the Glen site. Previously, patients had to travel to Quebec City to receive the surgery and associated care.
“These patients already have the challenge of being deaf. To displace them to a new city to receive a cochlear implant presents such a challenge that some actually decided not to go through with the surgery,” says Dr. Tamara Mijovic, a specialist in otology neurology and skull base surgery who was part of the team that performed the implant.
Cochlear implants work by placing a tiny electrode in the cochlea, the structure within the ear that captures sound. An external device fitted near the ear picks up sounds and transmits a small electrical signal to the electrode. This stimulates the nerves that allow us to hear, and the brain interprets the signal as sound.
Once in place, a cochlear implant is not as simple as an on/off switch. Patients go through a process of learning—or sometimes relearning—to hear. Several months of training and rehabilitation are required to get used to the implant because, though they provide the ability to hear, cochlear implants are not nearly as nuanced as the ear.
“it's like getting an expensive car without your driver’s license. Learning to hear for the first time or learning to hear again is a very complex process that requires months of rehabilitation,” says Dr. Lehmann.
Dr. Lehmann, who heads the Cochlear Implant Research Program, is working to improve the experience patients have with cochlear implants. His research group is focused on improving the device to help patients filter out background noise or better perceive music.
At the MUHC, patients of the Cochlear Implant Program will benefit from a bench-to-bedside approach: new innovations from the research group can directly improve care in the clinic, so every patient can receive their “miracle.”
To learn more about the MUHC Foundation’s work to transform health care in Quebec, and to donate to one of many projects in support of the MUHC, visit www.muhcfoundation.com.