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HealthWatch: Esteem Hearing System

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- This past summer, CBS 2HD reported on a remarkable new hearing aid that's helping hearing-impaired people hear in a much more natural way. A young woman with severe hearing loss saw our story and decided to find out more about the newly approved implant.

As Dr. Max Gomez reports, there's something about her story that makes her very unique. Lori Frisher had already had a cochlear implant in one ear trying to restore her failing hearing, but then her other ear was also getting worse and conventional hearing aids wern't working.

So Lori became the first to have two different implantable hearing-assist devices.

"I was born with a hearing impairment. It's genetic on both sides of my family. My parents discovered my loss at 3-years-old," Frisher said.

Her parents noticed her speech wasn't developing normally but the real clincher was, "I used to hit my dad in the face a lot and have him turn to me so I could read his lips," Frisher said.

That was more than 30 years ago and Lori has worn hearing aids ever since. "A lot of people did make fun of me growing up, teasing me if they saw my hearing aids. I would not wear my hair back because I didn't want anyone to see that I had a hearing loss," she said.

Over the years Lori's hearing continued to deteriorate until even the hearing aids were of limited help. So she opted for a cochlear implant in her right ear while her left ear was getting worse and putting an implant in that ear meant losing what hearing she did have.

"Not feeling that I would be permanently deaf without the technology was a concern for me," she said.

So Lori decided to have a very different implant, one that would preserve her remaining hearing. Called the esteem hearing system, it uses the patient's own auditory machinery which is said to provide much more natural hearing.

When the esteem was first activated about a month ago, Lori said "I hear my voice."

It was an emotional moment. Suddenly her world was filled with new sounds. "Hearing a blinker in a car, hearing wind, hearing music and wind at the same time. Hearing rain," she said.

The more Lori explores her new world, the more she realizes how how much she'd been missing. "It makes me feel normal, that I have felt, I've missed out on just everyday life, quality of life."

People who have known Lori for years, including her parents, say that even Lori's speech has improved with the esteem hearing aid. She enunciates more clearly now that she can hear herself speak, but remember, this is a surgical procedure and requires a specially-trained doctor to do the implant, so it's a step that should be carefully considered before giving up on conventional hearing aids.

Is the hearing aid better than a cochlear implant? It depends. A cochlear implant can be almost a miracle. It can give a form of hearing for the profoundly deaf, but it's not what one would call normal or natural hearing.

If the hearing-impaired person has an intact middle ear and hearing nerve, the esteem can provide amplification that users say is much more natural than even hearing aids. So it depends on your type of loss.

While the cochlear implant works wonders for the profoundly deaf, Lori says it can't compare with the quality of the sound she's getting from her esteem.

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