First in State Hearing Implant
Writer / Kristen Parker
Photographer / Forrest Mellott
Nearly since birth, Braydon Dixon has had issues with his ears. He began having ear infections very early in life, with his eardrum rupturing at three months old. By the age of one, he was not walking and was scarcely making any sounds. At 18 months, he was receiving First Steps therapy for speech, as well as occupational therapy. By the age of two, he had his adenoids removed and tubes in his ears at least seven times. Doctors saw improvement as he learned to talk and walk, but his parents knew his hearing was affected, presumably by the ear infections.
Tumors in His Ears
Fast forward two years: when Braydon was four, doctors discovered that he had cholesteatomas, which are noncancerous tumors that can destroy the bones of hearing as they grow. When the skin of a ruptured eardrum grows through the hole into the middle ear, a cholesteatoma forms. If there is an infection in the middle ear, the skin continues to grow until becoming a tumor called a cholesteatoma. These tumors are extremely rare, but Braydon’s case was significant in that he had them in both ears. In addition, both had spidered in their growth to encompass his ossicles (the bones located in the middle ear). When they surgically removed the cholesteatomas, the ossicles came with them.
This left Braydon with significant hearing loss. However, no one knew just how considerable the loss was until he was in second grade, when during a hearing test the therapist discovered that he was reading her lips. “He did fine repeating her, until she covered her mouth,” said his mom Reagan. “Then we knew how bad his hearing was.”
Hearing aids were next for Braydon, though they were not as helpful as the family had hoped they would be. Traditional hearing aids are designed to help the bones vibrate, but since Braydon lacks some of the bones in his ear, he still could not hear well. Discouraged, the family felt as though they were back to square one.
A New Technology Solution
Then they learned about a new bone conduction implant developed by Cochlear Limited: the Baha Attract System. This technology uses a magnet implanted under the skin to hold the device in place. Previous technology in this area inserted a small titanium implant into the bone behind the patient’s ear. This implant, called an abutment, would also protrude through the skin and the sound processor (the Baha) attached to it.
After studying, researching, and asking many questions, Braydon felt confident that this was the right choice for him. His parents let him make the decision for himself because “ultimately he is the one who has to live with it…not us. We are teaching him to advocate for himself,” said Reagan.
The Baha Attract just received FDA approval in November, and in February, Braydon was the first person in Indiana to receive one. The surgery, performed locally at Riley Hospital in Indianapolis, was only on his left ear; surgery for his right ear just took place in June.
The family felt the Baha Attract was the best option for Braydon. Since the surgery to implant the Baha Attract, “[Braydon] is much more willing to wear this device than the ones we have tried previously. Regardless of the current state of his ears’ disease, this device allows his hearing to be unaffected,” said his dad, Dave Dixon.
For his mom, the best part is that “the Baha has Bluetooth technology so he can listen to his music or a game without the rest of us having to hear it. Also, we can now watch TV or go to the movies and he can actually hear what is being said…he can hear whispers now that he couldn’t before,” she said.
“And he appears to feel more comfortable in general, now that he has hearing. Without the Attract, it is scary for him,” said his sister Kaylin. “Braydon is an amazing kid who has gone through a lot. He is a real trooper and I am very proud of him. I know not everyone agrees with implantation but this was my brother’s choice and this is his life. I think it is awesome that he was able to make this choice for his body and his life. This is his journey; we are just here to support him.”
According to Braydon, “The best part is that now I can hear and I can’t feel it. And I can hear my friends.”
“Throughout the community we have had awesome support. All the kids know him and don’t give him a hard time about it. We’ve had the opportunity to teach others about this groundbreaking technology,” said Reagan. “It makes me scared to think of ever leaving this community.”
If you are interested in following Braydon’s story as it continues to unfold, you can check out Reagan’s blog at braydonsjourney.blogspot.com.