The Science Behind the Video: A Woman Hears for the First Time
By now you all have surely seen that video, right? Sarah Churman was born deaf and at age 29 is now finally able to hear. That’s thanks to a new kind of hearing assistance called a cochlear implant. How does it work?
Sarah was on Ellen yesterday (so what? I watch it sometimes!), and she commented that she was born with incorrectly formed cochlear hairs (a genetic abnormality). These are the tiny follicles that normally transform sound waves into nerve signals that are transmitted to your brain as sound. Since she lacked normal hairs in her inner ear, she could never hear.
Sarah was the recipient of a new kind of cochlear implant called the Esteem. It consists of a microprocessor implanted behind the ear connected to two wires:
One wire sensor detects the vibrations coming off of the eardrum through the tiny bones of the middle ear. The microprocessor then interprets these signals and feeds them through the second wire. The tiny driver at the end of the second wire then directly stimulates the cochlea, creating the nerve signals that Sarah never had.
The implant serves as a sort of digital inner ear, and the brain interprets the signals as if they came from natural hearing. It is not a normal hearing aid in the sense that it is not merely amplifying and clarifying an audio signal. It is instead physically stimulating the ear to recreate the complete neural and physical processes of the inner ear.
Here’s another video with more information:
As for her ability to speak so clearly? Sarah attributes that to her amazing deaf educators and speech therapists. Looks like she won’t be needing them as much anymore.