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Giving the gift of hearing for a quarter-century

© Britt Schilling / UKF

Every day in Germany, one or two deaf children are born. With the help of a cochlear implant, most of them can receive the gift of hearing. The Cochlear Implant Center Freiburg (ICF) of the Medical Center - University of Freiburg is now celebrating its 25th anniversary.

Since its founding, around 4,000 patients have undergone surgery there, about 2,000 of them children. "The feeling when you give a child the gift of hearing is always extraordinary," says ICF founder Prof. Dr. Roland Laszig, Medical Director of the Department of Oto-Rhino-Laryngology at the Medical Center - University of Freiburg.

The hearing and speaking abilities of those affected can develop so well with a cochlear implant that it's possible for them to telephone, listen to music or learn a foreign language.

Setting international standards

An important milestone in the treatment of deafness was reached with the opening of the ICF in 1993. In 2010 and 2013, the ICF received bright new treatment rooms and lounges as well as a child-friendly outdoor area. This is particularly important because the often-young patients regularly spend several days at the ICF during the first few years after their operation. In 2017, a special acoustic room for listening training was also set up.

"Over the past 25 years, we have been improving patients' treatment and accommodation via many small steps. I am very happy that we can offer such a pleasant ambience to our patients, their families and our employees. This has been emulated worldwide," says Prof. Laszig.

Not only deaf children benefit

The oldest surgical patient in Freiburg was 96, and the youngest child just five months old: a world record set in 2004. "Surgery is possible at any age. But it is especially important for children, because hearing is also the prerequisite for learning language," says Prof. Dr. Antje Aschendorff, section head in the Implant Center Freiburg of the Medical Center - University of Freiburg.

Not just people who are deaf on both sides can benefit from a cochlear implant. It was at the Medical Center - University of Freiburg that a cochlear implant was first used to treat one-sided deafness. This is now recognized as a standard treatment.

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant (CI) consists of a microphone and speech processor behind the ear, a transmitting coil in the inner ear and the actual implant in the cochlea. The CI converts spoken words and other acoustic signals into electrical impulses. These pulses stimulate the auditory nerve in the cochlea. The CI allows access to the world of hearing and spoken words to children born deaf as well as to severely hearing-impaired children and adults.