#WontHeDoIt: Woman Gets Hearing Restored Through Implant

d-mahaffey-Lillian DeDomenic

(photo by Lillian DeDomenic for TribLive)

Donna Mahaffey, now 62, had finished her first run of the day as a Pittsburg bus driver and was about to take her break before her second run, but she never made it–something happened during her break that literally changed her life forever.

The last thing she remembers was having back pains and being taken to a hospital. She awakened a full two days later after being in a coma.

“I woke up and my world was silent,” Mahaffey tells TribLive

Donna was diagnosed with spinal meningitis that left her deaf. She also suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed on her left side. She said no one knows or will ever know how she contracted meningitis or what caused the stroke.

Spinal meningitis is an infection of the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord. Once infection starts, it can spread rapidly through the body.

Without treatment it can cause brain damage in a matter of hours and can be fatal within 24 hours.

In adults, symptoms include:

  • Light sensitivity
  • Drowsiness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache Stiff neck and back
  • Fever Sweating
  • Joint aches and pain Vomiting
  • Weight Loss
  • Pain that radiates from the spine
  • Seizures

“I was devastated,” she said. “I was also blessed because I had my life.”

But how Donna bounced back is nothing short of a miracle.

She remained in the hospital for nearly three months, learning to communicate without her hearing while also learning to walk again. She communicated with everyone by writing her thoughts on dry-erase boards that her daughter bought for her.

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While in recovery, Donna learned that she might be able to hear again with the help of a cochlear implant, an electronic device that replaces the function of the damaged inner ear. Unlike hearing aids, which make sounds louder, cochlear implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain.

Cochlear implants can help people who:

– have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears
– have profound hearing loss in one ear with normal hearing in the other ear
– receive little or no benefit from hearing aids
– score 65% or less on sentence recognition tests done by hearing professional in the ear to be implanted

Only six months after her initial hearing loss, Donna underwent surgery for the implant at UPMC St. Margaret. She said she had it installed in her right ear because her left ear can’t be repaired. She remembers the first time she could hear again.

“I just cried,” she said.

The implant allows her to hear when people are speaking to her, and with the help of a microphone, she can hear things such as her Sunday church service. But the implant can only do so much.

“I miss music,” Donna said. “I love gospel music.”

She said music just sounds like noise, but she hopes…