Abigail Heringer Has a Cochlear Implant: What Is it & How Does it Work?

Abigail Heringer

ABC Abigail Heringer.

Abigail Heringer is the first hearing impaired person to ever appear on The Bachelor. Heringer was born with hearing loss, often referred to as congenital hearing loss. She and her older sister, Rachel, were both diagnosed with the same condition, and they each underwent surgery for cochlear implants when they were just 2-years-old, according to the Statesman Journal.

A cochlear implant consists of two parts, one internal and one external. It is defined as a small electronic device that stimulates the hearing nerve (the cochlear nerve), according to Johns Hopkins.

“A cochlear implant is very different from a hearing aid. Hearing aids amplify sounds so they may be detected by damaged ears. Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound,” according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders (NIDCD).

The implant generally doesn’t help patients in large crowds or in noisy rooms. However, with proper therapy, the implant can help a person understand speech, hear and recognize sounds such as footsteps, and hear music, according to Johns Hopkins.

Here’s what you need to know:

Heringer Had a Cochlear Implant Put in at the Youngest Age the FDA Allowed the Surgery at the Time

A diagram of a cochlear implant.

NIH/NIDCDA cochlear implant.

Heringer underwent cochlear implant surgery at the age of 2, which was the youngest age that the FDA approved the surgery in the late ’90s. According to the NIDCD, the FDA approved the surgery for children 12 months or older in 2000.

The surgery is typically done in an outpatient facility and the patient is able to go home the same day.

“The internal part is placed under the skin behind the ear during an outpatient surgery. A thin wire and small electrodes lead to the cochlea, which is part of the inner ear. The wire sends signals to the cochlear nerve, which sends sound information to the brain to produce a hearing sensation,” according to Johns Hopkins.

This particular surgery is sometimes covered by health insurance, but not always. Aside from surgery, a patient will also need extensive therapy to ensure success.

The External Part of a Cochlear Implant Can Be Seen on a Patient’s Head

Introduction to Cochlear Implantation: Johns Hopkins Cochlear Implant Center | Q&ACharles Della Santina, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Implant Center, answers questions about what a cochlear implant is, who qualifies and what you can expect after surgery. Learn more about the Johns Hopkins Cochlear Implant Center hopkinsmedicine.org/oto/cochlear.2017-04-18T17:35:57Z

The internal portion of the cochlear implant cannot function without the external piece, which transmits sound via a microphone.

The external portion of the implant sits on the outside of the ear and has a piece that attaches to the side of a patient’s head. This piece is removed when sleeping, showering, or swimming, according to Johns Hopkins. These days, there are some waterproof options for patients. The external piece of the implant also has batteries that need to be changed or recharged regularly.

Heringer decided to share her struggles with hearing loss in her Bachelor application, according to her mom.

“I was surprised she was willing to share her story about her hearing loss. It’s something she usually doesn’t talk much about,” Suzie Heringer told the Statesman Journal. “With her disability, if that can impact one other person, it’s worth sharing the story,” she added.

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