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Surgery replaces silence with sound

Mason Drake at the moment he heard sound, thanks to cochlear implants. Photo by Kathleen Paice Froio.

Mason Drake at the moment he heard sound, thanks to cochlear implants. Photo by Kathleen Paice Froio.

A rare developmental disorder left Mason Drake deaf since birth. He heard nothing in his first six years of life.

His parents brought him to Upstate University Hospital for surgery in November. Charles Woods III, MD, installed a pair of cochlear implants that allowed Mason to hear sound for the first time. The implant‘s receiver was secured to the youngster‘s skull, electrodes were inserted into the inner ear, and weeks later – after the usual swelling had subsided – audiologist Jeffrey Vantassel turned the device on.

Mason heard the voices of his parents, Jessica and Kevin Drake of Oswego, both of whom used sign language to augment their speech. Megan Coleman, a news anchor for CNY Central, described Mason‘s response as “part uncertain, part afraid, clearly overwhelming.”

The news station covered Mason‘s implant surgery in a three-part series that aired late last year.

“What the implant actually does is stimulate the eighth nerve, which is our hearing nerve, directly to the brain,” Woods, an assistant professor in otolaryngology and communication sciences, told the news crew.

Jessica Drake said her son is still getting used to the devices. He takes them off for bathing because they cannot get wet, and he takes them off when he sleeps. Sometimes when he gets home from kindergarten, he takes them off to give himself a break from all the sound.

A remote controller adjusts the volume of the implants. His mom or dad increases it a little each day. Mason has a speech therapist and audiologist at school, and he has follow-up appointments with Vantassel every month. Eventually, the Drakes hope Mason will develop speech.

“Everything that we thought was out of reach seems more attainable now,” Kevin Drake said. ###

To learn about cochlear implant options, contact otolaryngologists Charles Woods III, MD, or Brian Nicholas, MD, at 315-464-4678.

This article appears in the spring 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.