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Doctor bridges hearing gap with world-first surgery

Photo: Lynette Reid and Dr Andrew Chang
A device that can help restore hearing for those suffering chronic middle ear impairment has been successfully implanted for the first time in Queensland by Sunnybank Private Hospital ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist Dr Andrew Chang.

Dr Chang is one of only a few ENT specialists in Queensland qualified to implant the 'Soundbridge' device - a small electro magnet, which is being touted as the gold standard solution for patients who do not meet the criteria for a cochlear implant and do not benefit from traditional hearing aids.

The Soundbridge has recently been made available to patients via the Medical Benefit Scheme.

Dr Chang says the device is 'life-changing' for patients who sit in the middle of the hearing loss spectrum.

"To qualify for a cochlear implant a patient must have a global hearing loss, while hearing aids are only useful for those who have a certain level of speech understanding,” he said.
“There are people who fall in to a grey area, where they can't really benefit from either of these options, meaning  they may be a good candidate for the Soundbridge.

"The Soundbridge is essentially a small electro magnet, which sits in the middle ear and vibrates about 1,000 times per second to convert signals into sound.

"It is a much less intrusive device, as the only external part of the Soundbridge is about the size of a 20 cent piece and, unlike a hearing aid, it does not block the ear canal.

"It is ironic the Soundbridge has never been used in Queensland before, as many Queenslanders struggle to use a hearing aid in summer as the humidity encourages a build up of fluid in the blocked ear canal, which can result in nasty infections.

"Any patient over the age of five with a demonstrated history of stable, albeit impaired,  hearing over at least 12 months is eligible for a Soundbridge.

“ The surgery to implant the device only takes about an hour, it can be switched on within a week, and there is virtually no down time.

"I completed a senior clinical fellowship at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom to learn  about the Soundbridge and to provide Queenslanders with the opportunity to have this device, which has shown remarkable results, with a demonstrated significant improvement in hearing for the majority of patients."

The first patient to receive the Soundbridge in Queensland, Lynette Reid, 64, says the device has had an immediate positive impact on her lifestyle.

Ms Reid says she struggled with her hearing since an operation to remove a brain tumour 41 years ago, but with the Soundbridge it is now 'near perfect.'

"I suffered a significant hearing loss in my left ear after the operation and have since tried a number of different devices including hearing aids, which gave me recurrent infections and never really matched the result I was after," she said

"After a number of years I think most specialists thought I was in the 'too hard basket', so I'm grateful I met Dr Chang because my hearing loss was affecting my life to the point where I didn't really want to leave the house alone. It was destroying my confidence.

"The Soundbridge is incredible because it has not only completely fixed my hearing, but it can also be re-programmed in future if my natural hearing ability deteriorates further, so it is a device that can be made to be individually compatible for life.

"The operation to install the device was relatively pain free and I recovered quickly. Once the device was switched on it felt like I had a whole new life ahead of me.

"I honestly think it is the best invention ever. I would encourage anyone with hearing loss to get a test to see if they are a good candidate for the Soundbridge."

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