After decades, man gets hearing back with cochlear implant

HOUSTON (FOX 26) — He is 87 years old and still driving. He lives alone, so his car is his lifeline to the outside world but recently, Geroge Pizzi’s lifeline was almost cut after his doctor discovered he was virtually deaf.

"'If you don't do something, we're going to have to pull your license,'" recalled Pizzi regarding what his doctor told him. "I wouldn’t be able to hear a fire engine behind me."

The damage was so bad that hearing aids were not an option for him  That is why he ended up at Cochlear Hearing Center where a cochlear implant was installed a few weeks ago and he is about to use it for the first time.

First, it is tested with a series of electronic beeps. Then, for the first time in decades, Pizzi can hear.

"That is so clear," said Pizzi. "I just understood every word you just said."

If you believe that this technology is only of interest if you are in your eighties, it's not. It’s of interest to much younger people for one reason — earbuds.

Unlike the Sony Walkman of the 1980s and 1990s, modern music players last longer and sound better at higher volumes. Not only that, the earbuds put the speaker down in the ear canal and so doctors and audio specialists are observing hearing loss at younger ages.

"I remember vividly seeing a rock musician who was not yet 30 that I couldn't converse with," said audiologist Sherri Taxman.

One in six adolescents have some level of high-frequency hearing loss from exposure to loud music, according to the Seattle Children's Hospital and the number of 20+ year old people with hearing loss is on track to reach 44 million by 2020.

Meanwhile, as Pizzi adjusts to his implants, his hearing will get better and better.

"It's unbelievable," said Pizzi. "My personality is changing." And he can keep driving.