Limbaugh Receives Cochlear Implant After losing all of his hearing, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh received a cochlear implant on Dec. 19, news that largely ignored the crucial role audiologists play in the process of implantation. Stories that appeared in television, radio, print, and Internet media based on Associated Press reports stated that ... Features
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Features  |   January 01, 2002
Limbaugh Receives Cochlear Implant
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Hearing Aids, Cochlear Implants & Assistive Technology / Features
Features   |   January 01, 2002
Limbaugh Receives Cochlear Implant
The ASHA Leader, January 2002, Vol. 7, 1-21. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.07012002.1
The ASHA Leader, January 2002, Vol. 7, 1-21. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR2.07012002.1
After losing all of his hearing, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh received a cochlear implant on Dec. 19, news that largely ignored the crucial role audiologists play in the process of implantation.
Stories that appeared in television, radio, print, and Internet media based on Associated Press reports stated that doctors implanted an “electronic hearing device” rather than a cochlear implant, and the political commentator would “regain his hearing” in a few weeks. Although this is not technically incorrect, it would have been informative for consumers to understand more about the process and steps involved in cochlear implantation. Publicity following the implant clarified that Limbaugh received a cochlear implant, but made little mention of the role of implant team members beyond the physicians.
“The critical role of the audiologist throughout the entire cochlear implant candidacy and rehabilitation process cannot be overlooked,” said Susan Brannen, ASHA’s vice president for professional practices in audiology.
At implant centers across the nation, audiologists participate as core personnel on the implant team, along with the surgeon and otologist/otolaryngologist. Audiologists are a primary point of contact for candidates as they conduct threshold and speech discrimination testing to determine whether patients meet criteria for candidacy determined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as counsel patients about reasonable expectations for benefit with the device. During surgery, the audiologist may be present to test the integrity of the electrodes after implantation.
After surgery, audiologists play a key role in programming the device to translate incoming acoustic stimuli into electrical pulses that stimulate the auditory nerve fibers. Programming the speech processor is critical not only to the effectiveness of cochlear implantation, but to control the maximum electrical sound thresholds to prevent harmful effects to the patient, such as facial nerve stimulation. The frequency of programming varies widely, but begins with the initial activation 4–6 weeks after surgery when the incision has healed. The processor is generally programmed up to 20 times the first year and less frequently thereafter.
“ASHA will continue its efforts in educating the media regarding the role of audiologists, not only with Rush Limbaugh, but with all persons who experience hearing loss,” Brannen said.
To assist the media in researching and accurately reporting on Limbaugh’s implant, ASHA’s public relations staff prepared and distributed a media advisory directing members of the press to a cochlear implants fact sheet on ASHA’s consumer Web site. Among the topics discussed in the fact sheet are the implantation process, the results that can reasonably be expected from a cochlear implant, the role of audiologists and speech-language pathologists on the implant team, and the cost and insurance coverage of implants.
Successful Surgery
Limbaugh, 50, surprised listeners when he disclosed during a radio broadcast several months ago that he had steadily lost hearing since May due to autoimmune inner-ear disease. Treatment with a combination of medications—the steroid prednisone, an alternative to prednisone called methotrexate, and anti-inflammatory etanercept—failed to bring any improvement, and Limbaugh lost all of his residual hearing.
Limbaugh was then evaluated for a cochlear implant during a day-long meeting with the House Ear Institute (HEI) cochlear implant team and was implanted with the Clarion CII Bionic Ear with the HiFocus electrode array.
“I feel great,” Limbaugh said in a press statement the day after his surgery, noting that he looked forward to his return to radio this month. After initial activation and programming sessions with audiologist Dawna Mills, co-director of audiology at HEI, around the time this article appears, Limbaugh will be able to perceive environmental sounds with the implant for the first time since he lost his hearing.
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January 2002
Volume 7, Issue 1