Rush Limbaugh says surgery to restore hearing to his right ear was "an overwhelming success."
The talk show host underwent a procedure to install a cochlear implant, which was switched on for the first time Thursday.
"Magic happened," Limbaugh said on his show Friday. "It was the strangest feeling. If you can remember the first time you heard stereo music, then multiply it by 100."
Limbaugh, who had the same surgery on his left ear 13 years ago, said that it initially appeared the implant was not working right. But after a series of trial trial-and-error attempts, his audiologist was able to synchronize the devices in each of his ears.
He told listeners he went from being on "on the floor" of disappointment to the "roof" of optimism about his implant over the span of the two-hour session with his audiologist. Although he said it will still take several months for him to adjust to the device, he expects his hearing will improve over time.
"I have no doubt that in six months … this will be the best thing I have ever done," he said.
"I don’t know how to describe this other than magic," he added. "The bottom line is it's an overwhelming success, but the first 20 minutes I thought it was an abject waste-of-time failure."
Limbaugh said the implant has improved his ability to distinguish between background sounds and individual voices – something hearing specialists refer to as the "cocktail party effect."
Limbaugh explained that his first implant, placed in his left ear 13 years ago, uses older analog technology, while the new right-ear device is a more advanced, digital device. When his audiologist first switched on the new implant, it was "a disaster" and made voices sound "like chipmunks" and provided only distorted sound.
But when the audiologist set both of his cochlear implants to the same "high-resolution" setting – a process hearing specialists refer to as "mapping" – the distorted sounds disappeared and the devices worked well, providing a "new depth and a new presence, and a whole world opened up" in both ears.
"Eventually, it ended up working like a champ," he said. "For me, it's miraculous."
Dr. Carolyn Smaka, an audiologist and editor-in-chief of AudiologyOnline, said Limbaugh's experiences are not unusual. New implants often require some manipulation for them to work well.
"During a typical cochlear implant mapping session, it does require some fine tuning and some time," she told Newsmax Health. "So the minute the session starts, the patient is not going to have success, but over time the design is to get it work ….to map it. "
She added that Limbaugh prognosis is "likely pretty great," in light of the progress made during the switch-on session.
"It does take some time for people to get used to an implant after it's activated, but the fact that he had great success from the first mapping session suggests the prognosis for him over all is very good."
Dr. René H. Gifford, an associated professor and director of the Cochlear Implant Program at Vanderbilt University, added that many patients experience that "wow" moment Limbaugh describes, when first recognizing that they are hearing in stereo for the first time.
"Though we can demonstrate significant, objective improvements in speech understanding with a second implant, the degree of subjective benefit reported by the recipient is often much greater than what we see on paper," Gifford said. "Mr. Limbaugh's experience is absolutely suggestive of good things ahead. The fact that he has already experienced a positive effect of bilateral hearing is an excellent indicator for his prognosis."
Dr. Anil Lalwani, chief of the Division of Otology, Neurology and Skull Base Surgery at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, noted that while Limbaugh's early experiences are positive, he can expect to make additional gains over the next 12 months.
"It will take approximately one year for him to receive full benefit of the new implant," Dr. Lalwani said. "The newly implanted ear usually takes longer than the first ear to be implanted to reach peak performance. The first implant typically reaches peak performance within the first 3-6 months.
"With the second implant, not only will his sound localization and performance in background noise be better, he will also be much less tired at the end of day because he won’t have to spend so much energy to listen."
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