With a Cochlear Implant, Joe Amante Gets His Life Back


December 12, 2020

Joe AmanteJoe Amante was coming home from dinner in December 2018 when he lost the hearing in his left ear. It was replaced by ringing that grew progressively louder. Within a few months, he had lost the ability to walk unassisted and could no longer drive.

“It was like constant screaming in my head,” says Amante, 70. “It was affecting my equilibrium. I felt like my brain suddenly short- circuited and was deteriorating rapidly. I couldn’t take care of myself, and I couldn’t get anyone to believe how bad it was.”

In spring 2019, he found Aniruddha “Alok” Patki, MD, an otologist-neurotologist and assistant professor in the Department of Otorhinolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth. “Joe’s tinnitus was so invasive that he was close to tears when he described it,” Dr. Patki says. “We talked about a cochlear implant and decided to move forward.”  Although Amante qualified for an implant, Medicare usually does not cover implantation for older adults who have lost hearing in only one ear. To have the surgery approved, Dr. Patki and other staff members emphasized the magnitude of his hearing loss and the crippling nature of the tinnitus.

Amante was evaluated by Jana Eller, AuD, a board-certified audiologist in the department. “Dr. Eller maxed out her equipment trying to recreate the sound in my good ear,” he says. “An MRI showed extensive scarring around the auditory nerves from an old head injury. We believe that was the root cause of the extreme tinnitus.”

Medicare approved the surgery, and on June 13, Dr. Patki performed a cochlear implant. “The hearing you get with an implant isn’t the same as normal hearing, but it’s much improved, and the implant suppresses severe tinnitus by giving the brain real sound stimuli to process,” he says.   A few days after the internal hardware was placed, Amante’s tinnitus had improved. Within an hour of placement and activation of the external hardware by his audiologists on July 22, he could stand up without his head spinning and walk without a cane.

“In a two-hour audiology appointment, my life changed,” he says. “It was huge – like a light switch going on in my head. It saved me from assisted living due to the rapid deterioration of my brain.”

When Amante removes the exterior hardware at night to sanitize it and charge the battery, the tinnitus returns. “I connect the external device first thing every morning to quiet the tinnitus,” he says. “I hope my story lets others with advanced tinnitus know that they can return to productive lives. As far as my hearing goes, I’m still a work in progress as we program the sound processor, but I’m almost back to my normal lifestyle. Even though I’m 70, I feel like a kid. It’s nothing less than a miracle.”

 

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