Swedish Medical Center Physician Breaks New Ground In Cochlear Implants

A Swedish Medical Center physician is breaking new ground in the area of cochlear implants with his recent surgery on a 9-year-old girl who received the medical implant for single-sided deafness.

Daniel Zeitler, M.D., a neurotologist and skull-based surgeon is one of only a few medical professionals in the United States to perform the procedure for this population
and diagnosis. According to Zeitler, the young patient’s deafness was beginning to take its toll on her both academically and socially. “Although Claire is an excellent student, she had to sit strategically in the classroom to be able to hear. She was having a hard time enjoying music, couldn’t enjoy birthday parties, and often felt socially isolated during basketball practice and games or active family outings such as bicycle rides. Basically, all the things that a 9-year-old girl likes to do were slowly taken away from her because of her deafness,” Zeitler says.

Dr. Zeitler

Young Claire received the cochlear implant on November 26. The MED-EL device will be activated on Dec. 18, however Zeitler says early testing during surgery indicated it was working properly. The use of cochlear implants for single-sided deafness, and for patients as young as Claire, is an emerging practice in Europe, but is extremely rare in the U.S. In fact, the FDA has not yet approved the device for single-sided deafness, says Zeitler.
So why did Dr. Zeitler agree to this rare procedure? Because he feels Claire can benefit greatly from this technology, and rather than wait for other options to emerge or trials to be conducted, he is confident the cochlear implant will dramatically improve the quality of life for this youngster sooner rather than later. “There’s a huge push to initiate clinical trials for its use in these circumstances in the U.S., but only a few anecdotal reports and small objective studies currently exist. Unfortunately, there is no good data or large-scale subjective experiences to make it the norm yet,” Zeitler says.

Claire began losing hearing progressively in her right ear at the age of 5 and tried a number of alternative hearing devices, including a traditional hearing aid. However, when her hearing loss became profound, she could no longer obtain any useful benefit from its use. Additionally, she attempted to use an FDA-approved bone-anchored hearing device, but was denied by her insurance. Her insurance is, however, paying for the cochlear implant. Zeitler is skilled in pediatric cochlear implantation, but his clinical interests also include bone-anchored hearing aids (Baha), benign and malignant tumors of the ear and skull base, facial nerve disorders, cholesteatoma and chronic ear disease, ear infections and hearing loss. Zeitler also frequently collaborates with neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists in the treatment of a variety of ear diseases and is an active member of the Colorado Neurological Institute.

MED-EL’s MAESTRO™ Cochlear Implant System has proven to be an effective solution for individuals with bilateral severe to profound sensorineural hearing loss. According to Zeitler, the device is expected to last a lifetime. Zeitler and his team of medical professionals at Denver Ear Associates will evaluate the quality of sound Claire experiences once the device is turned on December 18th. “Before surgery, Claire was excited and apprehensive, but she was ready,” Zeitler says. “My hope is that Claire’s story can be shared with other children and adults suffering the same disability, and Claire can be a champion of cochlear implantation for these patients in the future.”