Student adjusts to life with cochlear implant

Brooke Vincent

After three years of suffering from hearing loss, aerospace engineering senior Amy Quartaro noticed a low thrumming in her ear after a cochlear implant surgery. What she thought was a malfunction of the device was actually her cat purring, a sound she had never heard before.

Quartaro was diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss during her freshman year after struggling to hear her professors in lecture. This year, she met the criteria for severe hearing loss in one ear and profound hearing loss in the other — she qualified for a cochlear implant.

“I was under the assumption that my professors were quiet,” Quartaro said. “Last year, I went in for my normal checkup, and my audiologist couldn’t turn up the volume on the hearing aids anymore. I don’t even know what I’ve been missing out on to the full extent.”

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that bypasses the ear drum, ear canal and middle ear bones by stimulating the auditory nerves electronically. Quartaro’s audiologist, Amy Gensler, said that as Quartaro practices listening, her brain should be able to interpret more sounds she may have lost.

“My number one thing was for her to hear her professors in class and her classmates,” Gensler said. “She’s young and very smart. Once she figures the sounds out and her brain interprets them, she’ll be able to have a more relaxed conversation mode and she won’t have to work so hard to look for clues.”

Quartaro interned at NASA prior to receiving her implant. Although she said she felt hindered in conference room settings, her mentor at NASA, Erik Komendera, said Quartaro impressed many people.

“I knew about the hearing loss coming in, and, in spite of that, we didn’t have any issues,” said Komendera, NASA Research aersospace engineer. “We all recognize her level of talent and what she brought. What I hope for her is that she continues down that path and she builds off of what she did here and ride that as far as she can.”

As the brain adjusts to the cochlear implant, Quartaro will continue to visit her audiologist to fine tune her hearing while finishing out her senior year and planning for the future.

“I’m now excited to see what I can do at school this upcoming semester and if it helps my performance and opens these doors that I’m hoping it will,” Quartaro said.