Six-month increase in cochlear implant waiting times

Vivienne Welham is still learning what different sounds mean after getting a cochlear implant only two weeks ago. She ...
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

Vivienne Welham is still learning what different sounds mean after getting a cochlear implant only two weeks ago. She was on the waiting list for four and a half years.

The possibility of hearing is steadily getting further away for Kiwis on the waiting list for cochlear implants.

Deaf people now have to wait an average of six months or more for the life-changing operation in the north, and three months more if they're south of Taupo.

The average wait time has jumped to 20 months for those on the Northern and Southern Cochlear Implant Trust lists, up from 14 months and 17 months last year.

Vivienne said the new sounds she'd been able to hear since getting her cochlear implant were surprising.
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

Vivienne said the new sounds she'd been able to hear since getting her cochlear implant were surprising.

Coordinator of YesWeCare Simon Oosterman said Government funding had not kept up with an aging and growing population.

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* Deaf toddler's life changes after cochlear implant
* Two-year wait for cochlear implants
* Cochlear implants give deaf toddler ability to hear

"It's wrong for the Government to expect Kiwis to fork out $45,000-$50,000 for the fundamental right to hear, any many simply can't," he said.

What the cochlear implant looks like on the side of Vivienne's head.
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

What the cochlear implant looks like on the side of Vivienne's head.

The coalition of community groups, health service users and people working in health said the Government needed to spend another $2.3b in this year's budget to bring health spending back to the levels it was at in 2010.

Stuff  spoke to one deaf woman who recently had a cochlear implant after a four and a half year wait, and to another woman who has been waiting for nearly four years and still can't hear.

Vivienne Welham was born completely deaf, she can lip-read proficiently and works as an accountant.

"When I was first put on the list, I was told that I would have one within two years, but two years came and went and all of a sudden I was approaching five years.

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The priority went to the newly deaf and those not coping as well as Welham.

"The clinics don't get enough funding, and I was constantly bumped down the list by people whose need was greater than mine."

However, two weeks ago Welham, who lives in Auckland, finally made it to the top of the list, receiving the much-needed cochlear implant operation.

The implant converts auditory sound waves into weak electric currents, which are delivered to the immediate vicinity of the auditory nerve in the inner ear or cochlea. This transmits nerve impulses to the brain, where they are understood as acoustic sensations.

This allows recipients to gain awareness of environmental sounds, understand speech without lip-reading.

The world of sound is slowly opening up to Welham, who is hearing things she's never heard before: The sound of turning a page, a boiling kettle and even the sound of her own voice.

"I just about jumped out of my skin when my husband put a mug down on the table,

"It was so loud and different to what I expected."

This is a world of sound Crystal Mackenzie, 34, from Dunedin can only dream of – she's been on the list since 2013.

Mackenzie has three children, two who have cochlear implants of their own, and she is a long-term foster parents for three other children.

She has severe hearing loss, dropping out around 90 decibels – she is unable to hear a lawnmower and would have to touch it to see if it was on or off.

She was offered an operation date in November 2014, but had to delay it as she was pregnant.

"I was re-assessed in May 2015 and told I would be reviewed annually."

She is still waiting for an operation and was told her wait time was long because there were more urgent cases.

"If I could pay $50,000 myself, I would get one next week."

The Ministry of Health (MOH) designates more than $8 million for the operations and associated support annually, which funds about 40 implants a year.

"We acknowledge an increasing demand for cochlear implants," said Jill Lane, director of service commissioning for the MOH.

"Some of which is related to our growing ageing population and to increasing awareness of cochlear implants."

To qualify for the waiting list for an implant, you need to satisfy several criteria including having severe to profound hearing loss in both ears, that isn't helped by standard hearing aids.

 - Sunday Star Times

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