Deaf Women Hears for the First Time in a Tear Jerking Moment

Interesting Engineering

The video below shows the first time that Joanne Milne has heard a sound in her 39 years on this planet. Imagine never experiencing music, the sounds of nature or the various voices of your friends and family. Recently, she received electronic cochlear implants, that allowed her to experience sound for the first time - and as you can imagine, broke into tears.

“I wanted to record the moment when her implants were switched on," said her mother, Ann, "It was just wonderful and I had tears running down my face. We all did.

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Joanne suffers from Usher syndrome, a "rare genetic disorder that is associated with a mutation in any one of 10 genes resulting in a combination of hearing loss and visual impairment and is a leading cause of deaf blindness." In her mid-20s she also lost her sight and now at the age of 39 she has been given a sense of hearing. She had to wait several weeks after the operation at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth Hospital before the could turn the device on - and what an eager wait it must have been.

“She has been deaf since birth and had never heard sounds before this,” said Ann, “She knew the hospital in Birmingham was one of the best to have this operation which is why she chose to come here.”

So how does the technology work? A microphone attached above the ear picks up sound which is passed on to a digital processor, to convert the sound into a digital signal. The digital signal is then transmitted via an antenna through the scalp to a surgically implanted receiver. The digital sound is then converted to an electric signal and transferred to an electric array which is inserted into the inner ear next to the cochlear. The digital signal directly stimulates the auditory nerve, bypassing the non functioning inner ear (normally as a result of missing hair cells to pass the information on to the auditory nerve) which sends sound information to the brain.

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This sort of technology is the only solution to completely replace a sensory function. It is not new technology, but the novelty of restoring a persons missing sense has yet to wear off.

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