By Stephanie Stahl
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new high tech device is restoring hearing. 3 On Your Side Health Reporter Stephanie Stahl introduces you to one of the first patients to benefit in our area.
22-year-old Rebecca Hicks is able to hear out of her right ear for the first time. And listen to whispers from her boyfriend, another first.
“I’ve been waiting for years for something like this to come along,” said Rebecca. She was born with an ear deformity, and grew up only hearing out of one ear. Years ago she had cosmetic surgery to create a more normal looking ear and is now fitted with a revolutionary device that will give her normal hearing.
The system, called SoundBite, uses a tiny microphone that’s worn around Rebecca’s bad ear. It picks up sound that is transmitted to a receiver implanted in a removable mouth piece, worn on the teeth.
“It looks like a retainer,” said Dr. Paula Marcinkevich, an Audiologist at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital. She says the teeth turn sound waves into imperceptible vibrations that travel through the skull.
“It sends the sound from the bad side to the good side. It actually kind of tricks the brain in to thinking that it’s hearing from that side,” said Dr. Marcinkevich.
Technically, Rebecca isn’t hearing out of her bad ear. The good one is doing double duty.
Now after a lifetime of struggling and feeling different, Rebecca is enjoying things that many take for granted, like a normal chat with her parents.
“I’m excited because I’ve never had hearing on both sides and think that it’s going to be a totally different experience,” said Rebecca.
About 9.5 million Americans have single sided deafness, like Rebecca. The device costs almost $7,000 and is sometimes covered by insurance.