CHICAGO (CBS) — Almost one in five Americans deal with hearing loss and many use hearing aids, but those can be uncomfortable, inconvenient and unreliable. Now there’s a new option.
CBS 2’s Mary Kay Kleist introduces us to one woman who can now hear things she never heard before.
This Christmas will be extra special for the Merlo family. That’s because Lesa Merlo can now hear her family instead of reading their lips.
“Their laughter, it was like the best thing,” she said. “It’s like hearing them laugh for the first time like when they were babies.”
Merlo was diagnosed with severe hearing loss 13 years ago and, as time went by, her family got used to it.
“They know to let me know if I’m not hearing the doorbell. Or if I don’t hear the phone. If I don’t hear the oven beeping. They know to come and tell me,” Merlo said.
That changed in September, when Dr. Sam Marzo of Loyola University Medical Center implanted a newly FDA approved device called Esteem.
It includes a sound processing unit behind Merlo’s left ear and two smaller components implanted inside her ear, attached to the hearing bones.
“So we sense the movement of the eardrum, we can pick that up, amplify it some, and that gives you improvements in the ability to hear sounds better, and the ability to recognize words,” Marzo said.
Merlo controls the quality of the sound with a customized remote control.
“My ‘A’ levels are for my everyday life. My ‘B’ levels are for loud restaurants, parties, things like that. And my ‘C’ levels are for music, telephone, if I’m having any problems with distortion,” Merlo said.
She said she’ll never forget the moment the device was turned on.
“It was like a whole other world had opened up,” Merlo said.
Ordinary sounds for most of us sounded extraordinary to Merlo.
“I didn’t realize that people could hear themselves breathing. Or noises maybe your joints make. I never really heard before. Paper. Pen clicks. Heels walking on the floor,” she said.
Her son Jacob said, “We better watch out what we say!”
Shortly after the surgery, the Merlo family took a tropical vacation.
“To hear the ocean really for the first time like it should be heard, it was fantastic. Even under water noises, we went snorkeling, it’s all so new and different.” Lesa’s husband Rich Merlo said, “I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like a dream come true,” Merlo said.
Marzo is the only surgeon in the Midwest who does the procedure.
Merlo will have her right ear done in March. Most insurance companies are still not covering it.
The cost is $30,000 for each ear.