Audiology Student Adapts to Cochlear Implant
May 6, 2010
Choosing to complete an audiology externship at the UT Dallas Callier Center for Communication Disorders was an easy decision for Stephanie Schutzenhofer. But deciding to get a cochlear implant after living with hearing loss for 25 years was not.
“I lost my hearing at 7 months of age due to meningitis,” said Schutzenhofer. “Although I had profound hearing loss in my right ear and couldn’t hear anything, I was able to use a hearing aid in my left ear.”
Schutzenhofer learned to hear with the assistance of her hearing aid and to speak with the help of speech therapy. She entered a program for children with hearing loss at age 3 and was mainstreamed by the second grade.
“Because of my experiences with hearing loss and my desire to help others in the same situation, I decided to pursue a degree in audiology,” she said
While a graduate student at Washington University in St. Louis, Schutzenhofer learned about the Callier Center’s externship program. The yearlong program offers fourth-year doctor of audiology students from across the country hands-on experience working with children and adults with hearing loss.
“I decided to complete my externship at the Callier Center because I wanted to go to a place where I could get a wide variety of experience, especially with cochlear implants, hearing aids and diagnostics,” said Schutzenhofer. “As an extern, I get to do what an audiologist in the field would do each day.”
Under the supervision of Elizabeth Gill, a licensed and certified audiologist, Schutzenhofer conducts hearing evaluations, hearing aid evaluations and hearing aid fittings. She also works with the cochlear implant team to determine whether a pediatric patient is a candidate for a cochlear implant.
Schutzenhofer didn’t seriously consider getting her own cochlear implant until graduate school. Initially, she decided against it because she felt she could hear well enough with one hearing aid.
“I didn’t even think I would be a candidate for a cochlear implant because meningitis can cause the cochlea to ossify – or harden – and this prevents an electrode from being inserted,” she said. “Because the Callier Center is a member of the Dallas Cochlear Implant Program (DCIP), I decided to meet with Dr. Peter Roland at UT Southwestern for my own candidacy evaluation.”
After MRI tests revealed no ossification, Schutzenhofer decided it was time to get the surgery to learn whether she could benefit from a cochlear implant in her right ear.
The surgery was conducted on March 19 at UT Southwestern Medical Center, and the implant was activated on March 31.
“At first what I heard didn’t sound like typical sound to me. I was feeling the sounds more than hearing them. It was more of a vibration than a hearing sensation,” said Schutzenhofer.
The sensation has gone away as she has become more comfortable with the device. She is also aware that it may take up to a year before she receives the full benefits of the implant.
“I am fortunate to be working at the Callier Center during this experience,” she said. “Each week I meet with cochlear implant program manager Melissa Sweeney, and she is helping me to train my right ear to develop hearing abilities with the cochlear implant.”
Schutzenhofer plans to return to her hometown of St. Louis after the externship ends on May 21. She will begin working as an audiologist and looks forward to helping other cochlear implant recipients.
The Callier Center is a member of the DCIP, a collaborative enterprise between UT Dallas, UT Southwestern Medical Center and Children’s Medical Center Dallas.