Ear surgery offers fresh start
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Johannesburg - It was during the second half of a rugby match six years ago that Pieter Oosthuizen lost his hearing.
“I had gone down for a tackle when I got a knock to my left ear with an elbow, and all of a sudden I couldn’t hear,” he said.
The then 17-year-old told his father Peet that he couldn’t hear anything. After going to Netcare Union Hospital in Alberton, along with his brother, who had suffered a concussion in the same match, Oosthuizen discovered that his eardrum had burst.
He underwent surgery, only to discover that his hearing bones were also damaged.
“I went through three surgeries in the space of four years but my hearing didn’t get better,” he said.
Then on July 2 he received the Bonebridge conduction implant system – the first African to undergo such surgery.
Ear, nose and throat specialist Dr Duane Mol performed the surgery in just under an hour. The procedure has been performed only a few dozen times in Europe, where it has been the subject of successful trials over the past five years.
Mol said Oosthuizen’s bones on the one side did not work and the device helped to give a vibration directly to the ear.
Mol said the implant system was revolutionary in that it uses the temporal bones to conduct sounds directly to the inner ear, thereby bypassing damage in the outer or middle ear.
The device is surgically implanted inside the ear but unlike a cochlear device, the Bonebridge conduction device is relatively easy to implant.
The internal part of the device fits against the temporal bone while an external sound processor is held in place by magnetic attraction and is discreetly worn under the hair.
Peter Grasso of MED-EL, the company that manufactures the implant system, said the energy flows to the ear, and the problem is bypassed as the implant stimulates the skull.
The sound is then sent to the other ear through the skull, which helps people who suffer from single-side deafness.
An advantage of the implant is that the sound is conducted directly to the bone surrounding the auditory nerve, and it’s more effective and more comfortable than external hearing aids.
On Friday, the implant was turned on, exactly a month after it was placed in Oosthuizen’s ear.
“When they switched it on and I could hear, I just thought ‘finally a positive sign’. That was cool,” he said.
The 23-year-old has left rugby behind and is focused on finishing his construction management course.
Oosthuizen’s mother Martinette said: “We are relieved and excited. We are very happy and grateful for the technology that comes with all this. It has been a long road.” - The Star