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Health Sciences Centre program marks surgical milestone with 250th implant

The 250th cochlear implant surgery in Manitoba was completed in June 2018.
The 250th cochlear implant surgery in Manitoba was completed in June 2018. Joe Scarpelli / Global News

The HSC Surgical Hearing Implant Program completed its 250th cochlear implant surgery this summer and hosted a barbecue in Winnipeg on Sunday to mark the milestone.

Mathew Spears, 6, was diagnosed with meningitis when he was 18 months old. The infection spread quickly, and before his second birthday, the child had lost his hearing.

“It was heartbreaking,” said Ian Spears, Mathew’s father.

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He had already begun thinking of the possibility of learning sign language, but thanks to doctors at HSC, that wasn’t necessary.

Just weeks after the diagnosis, Mathew Spears was on the operating table, getting a cochlear implant.

The implants are complex, snail shell-shaped devices.

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“If we were to unwind that snail shell, it’s actually a piano keyboard, with low tones on one side and high tones on the other,” said Dr. Darren Leitao, a pediatric cochlear implant surgeon.

“At surgery we place a wire onto the piano keyboard and we can tell it what notes to play.”

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When a person in Manitoba is diagnosed with profound hearing loss, they may be eligible for a cochlear implant, when hearing aids — which are designed to amplify sound — won’t work.

“A cochlear implant changes sound waves into electrical impulses that can go down the auditory nerve to the brain so that you can hear,” according to Dr. Leitao.

To date, 236 children and adults across the province have received 260 implants since the program began in 2011.

Ian Spears is thrilled the device is giving his son, who just started Grade 1, the chance to hear like the rest of his class.

“He is just like any other other kid.”