Soccer field

Tallmadge teenager excels on football pitch, in life thanks to cochlear implant providing hearing

TALLMADGE, Ohio — You would never know that Tallmadge High School senior and college football player Cameron Kennell suffers from hearing loss.

The 17-year-old was diagnosed with enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome at 7 months after failing three newborn hearing tests, his mother, Samantha Kennell, said.

“His father and I made the decision to get the implants as soon as possible to have early access to sound via cochlear implants and begin training,” Samantha Kennell said.

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that can help provide sound sensation to someone who is profoundly deaf or hard of hearing. The implant consists of two parts: an outer part that sits behind the ear and a second part that is surgically placed under the skin, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Implants do not restore hearing, but provide a profoundly deaf person with sound representation to help them understand speech. Cochlear implants differ from hearing aids, which work by amplifying sound. Cochlear implants work by bypassing damaged parts of the ear and directly stimulating the auditory nerve, according to Shelley Duncan, an audiologist at Akron Children’s Hospital.

Cameron’s surgeries were performed at the Cleveland Clinic in 2006 and 2007. He had side effects, so he had to stay in the hospital for two nights after the first procedure and one night after the second, Kennell said.

“He had balance issues and nausea after coming home, but it didn’t take him long to bounce back,” she said.

After the surgery, Cameron had numerous appointments with hearing care professionals to help him learn to interpret the sounds he was hearing.

“Aftercare early on was important because of the mappings and adjustments,” she said.

At Tallmadge High, Cameron is a central defender and central/defensive midfielder for the football team. He is finishing his senior year and working part-time at a local hardware store. He plans to go to college to study business or work in real estate or e-commerce, he said.

“Having the implants allowed him to communicate with friends and teachers, to listen and follow instructions, and to be as normal a child as possible,” Kennell said.

Cameron has had his device’s processors updated twice in the past 15 years, which doesn’t require surgery. People with cochlear implants are eligible for processor upgrades every five years as the technology improves, Duncan said.

“The only limitation is that when it rains, I can’t play football. It’s also difficult to hear sounds from a long distance,” Cameron said.

“Results from cochlear implant technology may vary by patient, but for many patients the ability to pick up the direction of sounds and even soft sounds is excellent,” Duncan said.

She estimates that only 2-13% of people who could benefit from implant technology actually get it. Implants can also work well for older people, Duncan said.

“In general, if you’re healthy enough to have surgery, implants should be considered as an option,” she said.

The proper functioning of the devices depends on several factors, according to Duncan. People who have had good hearing for most of their lives are more likely to benefit from technology. It is also important for a person receiving the implants to wear them during all waking hours.

“We hear with our brain, and our ears are just the gateway,” Duncan said. “When people only hear part-time, the brain has a hard time adjusting to the sound.”

Thanks to improvements in surgical technology, the procedure for installing implants can now be performed with less soft tissue damage, which can help preserve some hearing after surgery. Recent technological innovations include the ability to stream sound directly to the implant via Bluetooth technology and water resistant accessories for the external processor. Innovations in rehabilitation have also made it easier for patients with the implant to understand the sounds around them, Duncan said.

“It’s a personal choice.” said Kennell. “This world is based on hearing. The sooner you get the technology, the better the sound is able to stimulate the brain.

“It’s great technology that isn’t well known or understood in the general population,” Duncan said. “You don’t have to be deaf to benefit from technology.”

People who want to learn more about cochlear implants can visit the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders website or make an appointment with a hearing health professional.

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