Surgeons from MGH and Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (MEEI) performed an Auditory Brainstem Implant (ABI) surgery -- a New England first -- May 20 with the goal of eventually partially restoring the patient's hearing. Developed in 1979 at the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000, the procedure has been performed for approximately 500 patients worldwide.
ABI surgery is used primarily to partially restore hearing loss due to a hereditary disease called Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2). The condition causes benign tumors on several key nerves. The auditory nerve, which carries sound signals to the brain, often is damaged by tumor growth or surgery to remove tumors. As a result, many NF2 patients develop hearing loss in both ears.
To help restore some degree of hearing in these patients, surgeons implant the ABI, which bypasses the inner ear and auditory nerve and electrically activates nerves in the brainstem. The device is currently the only hearing option for deaf NF2 patients and allows them to hear sounds in their environment such as doorbells, horns or other noises. The implant offers patients enhanced communication when combined with lip-reading.
The ABI surgery was performed at MGH by a team of MGH and MEEI surgeons. MGH specialists were Fred Barker, MD, of the Department of Neurosurgery, and Robert Martuza, MD, chief of the Department of Neurosurgery. MEEI specialists were Daniel Lee, MD, FACS; Ron de Venecia, MD, PhD; and Michael McKenna, MD. William Hitselberger, MD, of the House Ear Institute, the first neurosurgeon to perform the procedure, also participated. Follow-up care is being provided at MEEI.