Hearing impaired children and adults who have received cochlear implants are now able to receive cochlear implant mapping services in Chattanooga at the Speech & Hearing Center, located at 600 N. Holtzclaw Ave., Suite 200. Until now, patients were forced to travel to Nashville, Birmingham, Knoxville or Atlanta sometimes weekly after the implant.
Ashley Alexander, mother of 7 year old Kira, who was implanted a year ago, has seen measurable improvements since she had the surgery and started coming to the Speech & Hearing Center to see the audiologist and do listening and spoken language therapy.
“Since the surgery it’s been a huge, dramatic change. Speech wise, listening wise, grade wise. Home life is completely changed. She can hear us when we talk to her. She can hear her brother. She isn’t constantly asking ‘what?’ Overall, she wanted the hearing. We went with the implant and now she lives the same life any other kid does.”
Kira had her surgery in Nashville and went for therapy and mapping every week for one year. The financial burden and time constraints on their life from this travel were overbearing. Ms. Alexander says there are children with hearing loss in Kira’s class who have had cochlear implants but their parents cannot afford to drive to Nashville or other cities and take time off work, so there was really no reason for them to have the surgery, because they are not able to use the device correctly.
Dr. Kristin Vrieswyk , director of Audiology at the Speech & Hearing Center is the only licensed audiologist in the Chattanooga area with the expertise to perform cochlear implant mapping.
Mapping is the process where the audiologist determines the amount of electrical stimulation each electrode delivers to the auditory nerve so that the patient can respond. MAPs are adjusted over time. Sometimes the mapping process takes several appointments to ensure correct settings.
"It is important to see the audiologist as recommended to make sure the patient has the most appropriate MAP. Mapping is in layman’s terms the customization of the device so each patient is able to hear to the best of their ability. Over time their hearing may change so they need frequent adjustments," officials said.
Along with mapping, Kira and her mother participate in Auditory Verbal Therapy in Chattanooga now. This is also only available at The Speech & Hearing Center. The AVT certified therapist teaches Kira how to use the implant to listen and also teaches her how to speak. Her mother takes these practices from therapy and uses them at home and in their everyday life.
Before the implant, Kira’s reading level was far below her peers. Now, because she can actually hear the teacher and understand how to communicate, she has exceeded her grade level in reading. Ms. Alexander was told Kira would be limited to a third grade reading level if she kept her hearing loss the way it was. But she says she is forever grateful that her family no longer worries about her future.
“She can go to college and be able to understand. She won’t need help. She can get any kind of job she wants. Whereas before she couldn’t. It’s definitely comforting. I’m not worried about after high school and what she is going to do. I worried about that so much. ‘How is she going to adjust to living with no hearing? How is she going to get a job? How is she going to support a family? How is she going to do anything?’ And now we don’t have to worry about that at all.’”
The Speech & Hearing Center is the only facility that offers Cochlear Implant Mapping in Chattanooga. The non-profit organization is also the only facility that has a licensed Auditory Verbal Therapist in Chattanooga. Med-El and Advanced Bionics devices can be mapped at the Chattanooga practice.
“The purpose of bringing this cutting edge technology and development therapy to our area is to give parents [and adults ] more options. There are so many children who are diagnosed with hearing loss and navigating the system of choices for parents can be cumbersome. We are here to give them the means to reach the goal they desire for their child. Part of that means giving a fair chance to parents who want a cochlear implant and spoken language services for their children. We are over the moon to be helping them and hope this will encourage earlier intervention in the Tennessee Valley,” said the Speech & Hearing Center CEO Erica Newman.