By Alex Mussomeli
By all accounts Alex Mussomeli is a typical elementary school kid; he likes art, music, sports, cooking, and video games. But what is phenomenal about Alex is how much he is comfortable with and unfazed by his hearing loss, and also how much, for a 10-year-old, he understands the technology that helps him to hear. Diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss, Alex was fitted with hearing aids in both ears at age 3 months, and when he was 3 years old, he got a cochlear implant for his right ear. He continues to use both devices.
When his fourth grade teacher asked her students to write on a topic they know a lot about, Alex chose hearing loss and his hearing devices. The paper impressed the hearing-speech pathologist at school so much that it was shared on Speech4Hearing.com, a website that offers speech advice for parents of children with hearing loss.
It also impressed us at Hearing Health Foundation (HHF). Here are some excerpts:
“There are two ways to help people with hearing loss hear,” Alex wrote. “One is a common way, a hearing aid, and the other way is not as common but is getting more common every day, which is a cochlear implant. I have both.”
“The reason people might need to get a cochlear implant is that they might not hear. They could be deaf or have hearing loss. The surgery of getting an implant can be a big decision. First the nurses give the patient sleeping medicine. Then, the surgeon drills into the skull. Next, the surgeon puts in a magnet. After the surgery you have to wait one month for the head to heal from the surgery.”
Once the healing period is over, the implant is turned on and it is programmed, or mapped, to fit the specific hearing requirements of the patient, and then the brain has to learn to process the sounds that the implant picks up and delivers directly to the brain via the auditory nerve. Nada Alsaigh, Alex’s mother, says Alex’s young age worked in his favor. “We were very lucky,” she says. “He was very fast learning how to use the implant to hear.”
“The way you hear with a hearing aid is like a first aid kit. The hearing aid assists the person in hearing,” Alex wrote in his paper. “An implant is better than a hearing aid because you can hear better with it. The reason is that the implant has a computer like processor that sends the sound through the nerve to the brain.”
Alex and his brother Joe, who is 12, are incredibly close. “We face challenges and we try to overcome them. This was a learning experience for all of us and made Joe more mature at a younger age. Joe is just a loving and supportive brother,” Nada Alsaigh says of Joe. The family treats Alex’s hearing loss as a part of who he is without defining who he is.
While thankful for existing technology, the family is also committed to helping HHF and its Hearing Restoration Project (HRP) find a cure for hearing loss and tinnitus. The HRP is on track to determine how to regenerate the inner ear sensory cells that, when missing or damaged, lead to hearing loss. The promise of a biologic cure for hearing loss could potentially remove the issues of adapting to hardware for Alex and the 50 million other adults and children in the U.S. who have hearing loss.
Smart and thriving, Alex realizes he is fortunate:
"Hearing makes me happy!” Alex says. “I am grateful that my parents got me a hearing aid and a cochlear implant. Someday, I believe that we will find a cure to have hearing cells come back to life! We can't give up hope! Hearing Health Foundation can help us find the cure!"
Alex's paper on hearing loss is availible in full, here.