November 28th, 2014 | General | by Andreas Seelisch

Marvel Creates Cochlear Implant-Wearing Superhero

Images: Marvel

Earlier this fall at an event hosted by the Ear Institute at the New York Eye and Infirmary of Mount Sinai (NYEE), Marvel and the Children’s Hearing Institute (CHI) introduced their newest Superhero, named Saphera.

Saphera wears a cochlear implant, something both Marvel and CHI hope will help children and parents learn more about the surgically implanted devices, along with other assistive listening devices. Marvel and CHI are also hoping to spread awareness about not bullying those that wear cochlear implants and hearing aids.

Saphera, Marvel’s newest Superhero, will be featured in a new dual comic book that comes with a teacher’s guide called ‘Sound Effects.’ She will appear with veteran Marvel Superhero, Iron Man and another fairly new Superhero named Blue Ear.

Some of you may recall the story of Blue Ear’s creation by Marvel after being inspired by a four year-old boy named Anthony Smith, a comic book lover hailing from Salem, New Hampshire. He had begun refusing to wear his hearing aid to school, saying superheroes don’t wear blue ears (what his family called the hearing aids). So Anthony’s mother, Christina D’Allessandro, emailed Marvel in the hopes they could create some character that would make him feel more comfortable about wearing his hearing aids.

The email touched the Marvel team and the rest, as they say, is history. Anthony now wears his hearing aids again, “so he can be like Blue Ear and listen for other people’s cries for help,” his mother says.

Number of cochlear implants in the US and Canada

It’s reported that about 58,000 adults and 38,000 children receive cochlear implants in the United States each year. NYEE performs 150 cochlear implant surgeries per year and it has one of the highest volumes for the procedure in that region.

The number of people who have received these devices in Canada is far less. As of 2007, 2,354 Adults had received the procedure compared to 1,710 children. As of May 2011 the number of children aged 0 to 18 years that had received cochlear implants grew to between 2,100 and 2,350 children.

Over 150,000 have received cochlear implants worldwide.

Cochlear implants were first approved by Health Canada in 1990. However, Sunnybrooke Hospital in Toronto boasts blazing the trail for the procedure in the country in 1984 when they were the “first centre in Canada to implant patients with a multichannel cochlear implant (Nucleus 22) system.”

Most adult recipients of cochlear implants are under the age of 60.

There are 12 hospitals in Canada that perform the surgery. Sick Kids Hospital, located on ‘hospital row’ in downtown Toronto performs 120 surgeries per year with patients coming from across the globe, including from the Caribbean, Africa and Qatar.

Dr. Blake Papsin the former Director of the Cochlear Implant Program at Sick Kids talked about the improvements in the procedure and the significant decrease in the surgery’s completion time in March 2011. Dr. Papsin said “we’ve developed a very small incision and a very quick technique for putting these in [in] about an hour and 15 minutes, which is a lot different from when I started in 1995 [in England]. Back then it took me four hours or more to put one in. Now a child over five years old, goes home the same day as the surgery.”

How do cochlear implants work?

Cochlear implants are made of two parts, an externally worn microphone with a processor and an internal electrode array. Part of the device is surgically implanted into the inner ear, while the other part sits externally on the head.

It allows people to hear by picking up sounds via a microphone, which then sends them to the speech processor. The processor takes the signal, codes it for speech electrically and sends it to the transmitter worn on the head. After that the signal is sent off to the receiver under the skin to be decoded. The sound then goes to an electrode array, which distributes the signal, stimulating nerve endings in the cochlea and producing nerve impulses, which the brain perceives as sound.

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