Medical miracle returns hearing

Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Don Donovan recently underwent the Cochlear Implant and can now hear the sounds and voices around him. Don is pictured with a print of his painting that was chosen to be on the cover of the February 2004 edition of Southern Farm and Livestock Directory. (Town Crier photo/Revis Blaylock)

Hearing, like other senses, is often taken for granted until it is gone. Dan Donovan of Manila started noticing a hearing loss over 25 years ago. He had his hearing aides upgraded through the years, but approximately two years ago he had 100 percent hearing loss.

Donovan made the best of the situation, continuing with his art, caring for his horses, and doing his best to be able to communicate. Donovan's wife, Linda, has been very supportive and in many cases took care of the telephone communications for both of them.

Donovan received a letter from a friend that now lives in New York. The two had served in the Air Force together and have kept in touch through the years. His friend sent him an article about a young man that was deaf and could now hear thanks to a Cochlear Implant procedure.

That certainly gave the Donovans hope that there might be help available. They began to do research on the internet on the Cochlear Implants and discovered that the procedure was being done at Shea Clinic in Memphis.

Their local physicians, Dr. E.A. and Liz Shaneyfelt, made a telephone call to the clinic and referred Donovan for an examination.

"Our first visit was in October," Mrs. Donovan said. "It was amazing just being there and talking to others in the waiting room. We saw children that were born deaf who could now hear thanks to the implants."

Once the testing proved that Donovan was a candidate for the procedure, they were told that the surgery would be done after Christmas.

"They called us in November for more testing and the surgery was set up for Dec. 18. That was the greatest Christmas present we could have received," Mrs. Donovan said. "The procedure has been around for about 15 years but we were told that even five years ago, there would have been nothing that could have helped Dan's situation. The technology has advanced tremendously."

The Donovans learned that in most deaf patients the tiny hair cells in the inner ear that do the hearing are damaged or missing. The hearing "nerves" are usually still healthy. The 22 channel electrode of the cochlear implant is inserted in the inner ear to stimulate the hearing nerves directly. This electrode is connected to a receiver implanted beneath the scalp which receives the sound from an earphone in the ear through a transmitter held to the side of the head by a magnet. The electronics and battery are worn behind the ear. With a computer, the cochlear implant is adjusted to suit the loudness and pitch range of each patient.

"This surgery bypasses the external and goes right to the inner ear," Donovan said. "The external units can be upgraded as they improve."

The surgery took about four hours and Donovan called it painless. Thirty days after the surgery Donovan was ready for the implant to be connected to the transmitter. Donovan is now going through the mapping sessions to fine tune the sounds.

"It was funny at first, because everyone's voice sounded like Donald Duck," Donovan said. "Now, I can distinguish voices and everything is sounding more normal. It is amazing."

Donovan has several more mapping sessions to go through but each time he can see improvements. The procedure is a medical miracle, he said.

"We can't say enough about the clinic and the staff. They have been wonderful to us," Mrs. Donovan said. "We are fortunate to have them in Memphis."

In addition to Donovan's successful surgery, he feels honored that one of his paintings was selected for the cover of a national magazine.

Donovan's painting of the Duncan ice and coal house and mule barn was chosen to be on the cover of the February 2004 Southern Farm and Livestock Directory.

"I submitted a picture to the magazine last June but since I had not heard from them, I pretty much had written it off when in December I was contacted that my picture had been selected," Donovan said.

Donovan said he has received calls and letters from people from all over about the magazine cover.

"We were told by the editor that we needed prints and this is our first experience with the prints," Donovan said. "Cindy Schrader is helping us with the 22x28" prints. We have had several orders for prints since the magazine was published."

Donovan submitted three paintings and was told that his others would be on future covers of the Southern Farm and Livestock magazine.

This year has started out well for the Donovans and they are both looking forward to the future.

"Once the mapping sessions are complete, I want us to go out to eat and Dan do the ordering, and then on to a movie that we both can enjoy," Mrs. Donovan said.

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