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Trucker back on the road with dual implants

Longtime OOIDA member Wayne Huey thought his trucking career was over when he failed his DOT physical last March. In 1993, Wayne began losing his hearing gradually. Even with hearing aids, Huey has been deaf in his left ear since 1997 and in his right ear since 2001.

“I figured I’d never drive again,” Wayne said. Today, his hearing is nearly perfect. He passed his DOT physical in October and is happy to be back on the road.

Huey, 44, of Jamesport, MO, is one of a few people across the United States participating in a Food & Drug Administration clinical trial that allows him to receive not one cochlear implant, as is the traditional treatment, but two cochlear implants — one in each ear. The staff at Midwest Ear Institute in Kansas City, MO, where he got the implants, often refers to Huey’s implants as “Huey’s Duallies.” The institute is affiliated with the Mid-America Brain and Stroke Institute of Saint Luke’s Hospital.

The cochlear implant is a device designed to surgically treat individuals who have severe to profound deafness in both ears and who receive limited benefit from hearing aids. Like a radio, the cochlear implant acts as the receiver with a magnet that connects it to an external apparatus — a transmitter coil, a microphone and a speech processor, all connected by cords. The microphone is placed on the ear, and the speech processor, which looks like a pager, can be worn on the belt or in a shirt pocket.

Doctors are not sure what caused Huey’s hearing to gradually deteriorate over the years. Dr. Charles Luetje, otolaryngologist and medical director at the Midwest Ear Institute, performed surgery in July to implant the two cochlear devices as part of a study conducted by Cochlear Corp. The purpose of the study is to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of bilateral cochlear implantation compared with the current practice of cochlear implants in just one ear.

Potential benefits of a cochlear implant in one ear include improvements in the ability to understand speech, with and without lipreading, and to hear speech and other environmental sounds. However, with implants in both ears, the possible benefits include the potential to hear sounds originating from both sides of the head; to locate the source of various sounds in the environment; and to better understand speech in background noise.

“The difference between one and two implants is like the difference between AM radio and FM stereo,” Huey said. “I hear better now than I did back in 1990.”

Because Huey is part of a study, the FDA, the implant manufacturer and vocational rehabilitation covered much of his expenses. Although he has already paid around $2,000 in out-of-pocket expenses related to the implants, he says it’s worth it to get his life back on the road.

—by René Tankersley, feature editor