Cochlear Implants let farmer go back to school


ROCHESTER, Minn. – After running the family dairy farm for most of his life, a Milleville man’s world was turned upside down after developing Meniere’s disease which caused him to have vertigo attacks and eventually lose hearing in both his ears. At 48 years old, Dennis Stelling says he felt hopeless. The vertigo attacks meant he could no longer run the farm, something he had been doing for 31 years. His hearing loss left him unable to understand anything.

But thanks to a life-changing surgery, Stelling is now in his final year at Rochester Community and Technical College. In 2013, he received treatment at Mayo Clinic where he learned he was a perfect candidate for Cochlear Implants.

If you would have asked him years ago, he never would have pictured he’d be sitting in a college classroom earning his associate’s degree.

“If it wasn’t for the Cochlear Implants, I’d be back in school, but it would be a crash course in sign language,” he explains. “It wouldn’t be just me, I’d have to get my entire family to go, the entire community of people I associate with.”

In 2013 Dennis had a Cochlear Implant put in his left ear and in 2015, he became a bilateral Cochlear Implant recipient.

“When they put them both on, it was a natural as I remembered. I still tell people to this day if I take one or the other off I don’t like how each sounds by itself but when I put them on together, it’s like; this is normal, this is what I remember from before I went deaf.”

Cochlear Implants are hearing devices for people whose hearing loss has gotten to the point where they can’t utilize standard hearing aids. According to Christie Kenney, AuD, CCC-A and Clinical Territory Manager for Cochlear, the device picks up sound and changes it from an acoustic signal, to an electric signal. An implant is surgically placed underneath the skin and attached to an electrode that’s inserted in the inner ear in the cochlea, which is our organ of hearing. The Cochlear Implant takes the place of the cells that normally send the signal to the hearing nerve.

Because of the implants, Dennis was able to enroll in RCTC to study accounting, something he had thought about back in high school. When a close friend offered Dennis a job bookkeeping, he knew it was an opportunity he had to take.

“I’ve always done the books for the farm, that was one of my responsibilities, I enjoyed doing the book work,” Stelling says. “I had thought about being an accountant, if I’m going to do this for other people, I should probably at least brush up on my skills.”

In class, he has tools that go along with his device like a microphone that his instructors wear during lectures that send the audio straight to his implant. He says that the faculty and students at RCTC have been nothing but supportive and encouraging of his back-to-school journey.

“It’s just the connections that you make with people; you know I’ve had other students that have walked by when I’ve been working on homework and they’re like, “Oh I have a friend who just found out they were a candidate.” So just being able to connect with people, that’s almost as enjoyable as getting my hearing back.”

Now, at 51 years old, Dennis will graduate this coming spring with an associate degree in accounting.

Dr. Kenney says that while the Cochlear Implant system is becoming more common, they’re only reaching about 10% of the population that could benefit from the technology; people like Dennis.

“A lot of people either don’t know that Cochlear Implants exist, or they still think that you have to have no measurable hearing in order to be a candidate,” Kenney explains.

The devices have been around for over 35 years and Kenney says that in recent years, candidates can have more residual hearing than they could when the implants first came out. As recent as two years ago, Cochlear introduced what’s called the Hybrid device which is a half hearing aid, half Cochlear Implant.

“It allows for patients to have pretty good low-frequency hearing and then pretty substantial high-frequency hearing loss and then they can use both a combination of the hearing aid and Cochlear Implant in one technology so they can have access to all the sounds they need for speech understanding,” Kenney adds.

For more information about Cochlear Implants follow the link below:

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