November 29, 2012

Implants by Dr. J Douglas Green help 2 young men from Nigeria


Audiologist Jacqueline   Olson’s No. 1 rule — no crying in her office — got broken a lot Thursday   afternoon. That’s what happens when you change a life, the way she and her   colleagues were changing the life of 26-year-old Samuel Ochenehi.

Ochenehi was in his first year of medical school seven years ago   in his native Nigeria when, following hospitalization for typhoid fever, he   went deaf. He finished medical school but learned to his dismay that his   hearing loss was going to prevent him from being admitted to a residency   program.

Then he met Doug Green, a   Jacksonville neurotologist, who is founder and president of the Jacksonville   Hearing and Balance Institute. Green, who   also founded Hearing Help for Africa, regularly does medical missionary work   at Evangel Hospital in Jos, Nigeria, where Ochenehi lives.

Green considered both Ochenehi and 19-year-old Emmanuel Odido,   who lost his hearing at two as a result of meningitis, good candidates for   cochlear implants. Both had sustained damage to the cilia, hairlike cells   inside the ear that receive sound, which the cochlea translates into   electrical signals. The implant takes over that function.

But because of sectarian violence in Nigeria and a lack of   adequate medical facilities there, Green decided   the best approach was to bring the two young men to Jacksonville.

“I kept having to postpone the trip because bombs kept   going off, ” Green said. “It   was easier to bring them here.”

In October, Ochenehi and Odido flew to Jacksonville and moved   into an apartment Green rented for   them. Green did surgery on Odido Oct. 16 and on Ochenehi on Oct. 23,   implanting in each a device beneath the skin. A second piece fits over the   ear, with a magnet that attaches to the implanted device linking them.   Normally, the procedure costs about $50,000. But Green waived   his surgical fees, and MED-EL Corp. donated the cochlear implants.

During the time they’ve spent in Jacksonville, Ochenehi and   Odido have grown close to many of the people who work at the institute.

“They’re incredibly gracious people, ” Green said.   “It’s really fun for me and for my office to be a part of this.”

“It’s been so awesome to see him blossom, ” Olson said   of Ochenehi.

Thursday, Olson did tests to check how well Ochenehi was hearing   and then made adjustments, creating four different hearing programs Ochenehi   can switch to using a remote control. Ochenehi had been having trouble   hearing male voices clearly but the adjustments seemed to solve that problem.   Following the adjustments, Olson did a second round of tests.

“You’re in the normal range, ” she told Ochenehi,

“Wow, ” he responded.

Knowing what was coming next, Olson reminded Ochenehi about her   “no crying” rule. Then she gave him the stethoscope Doug and   Kelley Green had bought for him, a stethoscope that can be connected   directly to the external earpiece.

As he put on the earpiece, Olson began crying. As he listened to   the heartbeat of Allison Jeffries, the institute’s front office manager who   has been den mother to Ochenehi and Odido during their visit, Jeffries   started crying. As he listened to his own heartbeat, Ochenehi started crying,   laying his head on his hands on Olson’s desk.

He looked up briefly, reproaching Olson: “You shouldn’t   have made me cry.”

Then, placing his hands together as if in prayer, he closed his   eyes and cried some more.

With damp tissues littering the desk — audiology extern Lindsay   Oldham, assisting Olson, was also in tears — Jeffries lightened the mood by   promising Ochenehi his favovite American meal, Bono’s babyback ribs and   French fries.

“French fries, that’s my favorite, ” Ochenehi said   with a grin.

Jeffries placed a call to Nigeria, where it was early evening.   Ochenehi’s father answered and she handed Ochenehi the phone. For the first   time in seven years, he heard his father’s voice.

“You’re hearing me, ” Ochenehi said. “I’m hearing   you, too.”

That led to more tears and more damp tissues. Ochenehi told his   father he’d be flying home soon, leaving Jacksonville on Thanksgiving Day so   he can resume his medical education.

Odido will stay longer in Jacksonville while he works with a   speech therapist. He lost his hearing as a young child and so is having   difficulty with speech, having communicated all his life with sign language.

Leaving will be hard, Ochenehi said.

“It’s becoming difficult to say goodbye, ” he said.   “They taught me what it means to care for people. I think this has been   one of the best periods of my life. I don’t want to wake up from this   dream.”

But he’s decided he has a mission to perform in Nigeria and he’s   chosen a medical specialty he wants to pursue in order to fulfill that   mission.

“I’ve decided to go for ENT [ears, nose and throat], ”   he said. “This has been a life-changing experience for me. … I hope   one day I’ll be able to put a smile on a child’s face like they did for   me.”

Charlie Patton: (904) 359-4413


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