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Sunday, September 6, 1998 Published at 14:46 GMT 15:46 UK


Deaf man in 'bionic' ears breakthrough

The £30,000 operation is the first of its type in the world

A deaf man is set to hear again after pioneering surgeons fitted him with a pair of 'bionic' ears.

For 15 years surgeons have given patients just one implant each.

But for the first time in the world a person has been given twin implants in an operation by Manchester ear experts.

They hope that this will boost hearing from 70% with one implant, to almost normal hearing.

[ image: Manchester Royal Infirmary surgeons performed the operation]
Manchester Royal Infirmary surgeons performed the operation
However, at £30,000 it is unlikely the delicate procedure will become widely available on the NHS.

Richard Ramsden, a consultant otolaryngologist at Manchester Royal Infirmary, performed the three-hour operation on 50-year-old Clive Foster-Cooper, from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, last week.

Professor Ramsden said surgeons were eagerly awaiting the opportunity to switch the implants on.

He said: "The operation can make a terrific difference to someone's quality of life.

"But at the moment we really don't know how much a double implant will differ from a single."

Wired for sound

The small tadpole-like implants - containing a microchip, decoder and receiver coil - look like a snail shell and convert sound waves into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret via a behind-the-ear hearing aid.

Mr Foster-Cooper, who mysteriously became deaf five years ago, said after the operation: "I'm wired up for sound and ready to go.

"Now I have the best chance in the world of being able to hear again thanks to the professor and I'm confident I will do so."

But how many more deaf people will be able to follow him is not clear.

Prof Ramsden said: "It's hard enough to get the government and Department of Health to pay for the one £15,000 operation.

"I can't see them jumping at the chance to double the cost."

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