Lizbette Martinez Had Device Called 'Sophono' Implanted Into Her Skull Bone

LYNBROOK, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) —  A Long Island woman has her hearing back thanks to a cutting-edge implant procedure.

Lizbette Martinez of Lynbrook has been hard of hearing for 17 years and became deaf in her right ear in 2011.

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“To be told that you lost your hearing completely is devastating,” Martinez said. “I had normal hearing, but I did have some ear infections when I was younger. And I woke up one morning and I was bleeding from my ear.”

That’s how it started for Martinez. Removing the tissue growth that caused the bleeding left her hearing impaired in her right ear.

Then, a couple of years ago, things got worse. Doctors discovered that Martinez’s brain had pushed into her middle ear and they had to surgically close her entire ear canal.

“So I went from having hearing, to a little bit of hearing, to no hearing at all,” Martinez said.

But after much Internet research, Martinez found Dr. Anil Lalwani, who implanted an unusual type of hearing aid — into her skull bone, right behind her deaf ear. Last month, she became the first person in New York City to get the Sophono, a thumb-sized sound processor that is held in place by a magnetic implant.

The device was activated Wednesday by her doctor at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

“The implanted metal plate that’s beneath her skin and it vibrates the plate just through close contact,” Dr. Dean Mancuso said.

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Hearing is just about sound and sound is really just vibration, so here’s how that hearing aid works: Take a tuning fork, bang it, and then hold it to the bone on the bridge of your nose. The bones in your skull transmit the vibrations to the hearing nerve, and you hear the sound, CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reported.

The sound is picked up by an external device that snaps on magnetically. There’s nothing sticking through the skin like other bone-anchored hearing aids.

Gomez was there Wednesday when Martinez’s hearing aid was activated for the first time. She said the sounds were like an echo.

The echo is due to a slight delay as the sound is transmitted through the bones, Gomez reported.

“I am so happy today that I got my hearing back. I am ecstatic,” Martinez told 1010 WINS’ Mona Rivera. “The first thing I heard the doctor say was, ‘Is it working? Can you hear me?’ and I went, ‘yes.'”

“I heard the doctor perfectly clear. I could hear what was going on in the hallway, I just heard everything,” Martinez added.

Martinez got the Sophono device because conventional hearing aids weren’t working for her. And now she won’t have to depend on her husband to tell her what people are saying in restaurants, parties and other noisy environments.

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