Cochlear Implants Allow This College Student to Excel as a Leader
Cochlear Implant Awareness Day to be held February 25 to call attention to the technology and positive results
GAINSVILLE, FLORIDA—Chase Brannan doesn’t remember the moment his parents first questioned whether he could hear. He was too young, but he’s heard the story so many times, he knows their suspicions triggered concern and a series of physician visits.
Now a senior at the University of Florida, Brannan also well knows that, because of technology, paired with specialized listening and spoken language education, a diagnosis that one is profoundly deaf is no longer devastating.
Brannan, 24, has had a cochlear implant in his right ear for almost a quarter century and in both ears for 10 years. The technology has allowed him to access academic success, leadership and community activism. He assists his father with a cow-calf operation, and is a student senator, and an advocate for people with disabilities of all kinds.
Because cochlear implants transformed his life at a young age, Brannan is proud to call attention to Cochlear Implant Awareness Day, held annually since 2009 on Feb. 25, the date the first cochlear implant procedure was completed in Paris, France, in 1957.
Many manufacturers of the life-changing technology, as well as organizations in the field of deaf education, recognize the anniversary to raise public and government awareness about the benefits of the electronic devices.
“The main purpose of the implant is to receive sounds,” Brannan said. “Mine enabled me to talk. If you can speak, you can communicate with the majority of the population. My cochlear implants were a step for me in that direction.”
Cochlear implants, listening and spoken language
Cochlear implants are surgically implanted and provide a sense of sound to individuals who are profoundly deaf. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the external processor receives and transmits sounds in the environment and directly stimulates the cochlea, bypassing nonfunctioning areas in the inner ear.
Jan Gatty, Ed.D, the director of Child and Family Services for Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech, was present at the hearings held by the U.S. Federal Drug Administration in 1984, when cochlear implant technology was approved for use in adults.
“It was groundbreaking,” she said, noting that by 2000, the technology was approved for use in children as young as 12 months old. Around the same time, hospital screenings for hearing loss in newborns allowed diagnosis of deafness in infancy.
Early diagnosis, combined with advanced hearing technology, radically improved outcomes. “The behavioral shift for deaf and hard of hearing children altered the course of education for students with hearing loss,” Gatty said.
She stresses early identification and cochlear implants are only two of the criteria that allow children who are profoundly deaf to listen and talk. The third is specialized instruction in listening and spoken language by experts and experienced professionals such as those at Clarke.
“The work of speech and language professionals then becomes helping children to learn the meaning of sound particularly as it relates to the development of that part of the brain that deals with spoken language,” she said.
In recent years, 60 percent of Clarke students have used cochlear implants, and outcomes for those with profound hearing loss are tremendously improved. Many students now enter neighborhood schools, in classrooms with their hearing peers in early childhood, as opposed to mainstreaming—as it’s called—in adolescence, Gatty said.
This shift to early mainstreaming was so dramatic that Clarke has transformed from a residential program established in Northampton, Massachusetts in 1867 to five campuses along the East coast: Northampton and Boston, Massachusetts; New York City; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Jacksonville, Florida, where Brannan received his Clarke education.
“As children with cochlear implants are mainstreamed into classrooms with hearing peers, it is critical that there are teachers of the deaf who have experience and expertise in the patterns of spoken language acquisition in children who use implants,” Gatty said. “Children need to hear spoken language early in life, to learn to control movements of their speech mechanism.”
About cochlear implants
Cochlear implants are also useful for adults who lose hearing in later life.
Nearly 188,000 individuals worldwide are fitted with a cochlear implant. In the United States, more than 41,000 adults and nearly 26,000 children have an implant, according to the NIH.
The first cochlear implants were developed in the 1950s and were designed for use with adults who were returning from active combat duty, during which time their hearing was impaired.
A profound diagnosis
Brannan was six months old when his mother, the late Kimberly Loughrie Brannan, was vacuuming behind him and noticed he did not seem to be aware of the sound.
Later that day, Brannan’s father, Chuck Brannan of Macclenny, Florida, stood behind him and hit a pot with a spoon. “He didn’t seem to have a reaction to it,” the older Brannan said.
The eventual diagnosis was that Brannan had profound hearing loss. At six months old, he received hearing aids; Chuck Brannan said that was the best recommendation at the time. In 1999, when Chase Brannan was five, he received a cochlear implant made by Advanced Bionics in his right ear, and, said his father, “Immediately, Chase took off.”
He received the implant, from the same manufacturer, in his left ear in 2008. “It was a huge improvement in terms of hearing where the sound is coming from and being able to rely on both sides for communication,” Chase said.
Chase Brannan was a student of Clarke when he received the first implant. The specialized education in listening and spoken language, which helped him to use the cochlear implant technology, was so important to the Brannans, they drove two hours a day to take Chase to and from school. Clarke now offers a preschool classroom in Orlando to further support children with hearing loss in Florida.
“If it wasn’t for Clarke, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” Chase added.
After he graduates from the university’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences this spring with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural education and communication, Brannan intends to get advanced degrees in the same areas so that he can teach at the college level.
At the university, Brannan was elected by his peers to serve as a College of Agricultural and Life Sciences Senator and is a member of both the Information and Communication Committee and the Budget and Appropriations Committee. He is also vice-chairman of the Disability Advocacy Ad Hoc Committee.
“I like being involved and busy,” he said. “I have so much energy and use it to be able to help people. I like to help people.”
About Clarke Schools for Hearing and Speech
Clarke has been teaching children who are deaf or hard of hearing to listen and talk for 150 years, evolving to best meet the needs of children and families today through Infant-Toddler, virtual tVISIT (teleservice), Preschool, K-8, Mainstream and Summer Programs, as well as through hearing centers, comprehensive educational evaluations and research and professional development. Annually, more than 1,200 children and their families benefit from programs and services at five campuses: Boston, MA, Jacksonville, FL, New York City, Northampton, MA and Philadelphia, PA. Learn more at clarkeschools.org.