Outpatient Surgery Restores Young Mother's Hearing


Severe hearing loss wasn’t a condition that Heather Simonsen expected as a side effect of pregnancy. Yet, after the birth of her third child, the gradual hearing loss she had been experiencing over several years suddenly became acute, resulting in deafness in her left ear. She couldn’t understand speech, distinguish sounds, or even hear her newborn cry.

Heather first noticed a difference in her hearing when her oldest two children were toddlers, and was told that she could expect to be fitted with hearing aids at a young age. However, after the birth of her third child, her hearing loss was profound. Heather relates, “I woke in the hospital after giving birth and the doctors were standing on the side of the bed talking to me and I couldn’t hear them at all. It was really scary. I could tell they were talking but I couldn’t understand what they were saying.”

Hoping that her hearing loss was temporary, and wrapped up with the demands of a new baby and a bustling household, Heather waited for her hearing to improve. Coping with her hearing loss proved difficult. “It was overwhelming to cook dinner, help the older kids, and take care of the baby,” says Heather. “When you can only hear out of one ear, you’re not able to distinguish sound, so everything is one big jumble.”

Friendly and outgoing, Heather yearned for conversation but found her hearing loss made it difficult to follow discussions, particularly if there was ambient noise, which meant going out to lunch with friends or attending church functions and other social gatherings was especially frustrating. “It was really starting to impair life,” she says.

Heather sought help from an ear, nose, and throat specialist. Although initial hearing tests indicated her severe hearing loss was because of an inner-ear disorder, Heather was referred to Clough Shelton, MD, at University of Utah Heath's Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic for additional testing. There, Shelton discovered that Heather’s hearing loss stemmed from a conductive issue in her middle-ear called otosclerosis—a genetic condition in which abnormal bone growth in the middle ear causes hearing loss. And, as in Heather’s case, it is a condition that is sometimes aggravated by pregnancy.

Shelton had good news for Heather—a simple surgical procedure could restore her hearing. He performed a stapedectomy—an outpatient surgery where the damaged bones in Heather’s middle ear were replaced with a prosthetic wire crafted from a titanium alloy. The surgery was a success and Heather can now hear out of both of her ears. “I’m wired for sound!” says Heather. “My hearing is better than it’s been for probably a decade. It’s been life changing. I told the doctor I feel like it was a miracle. I won’t ever take it for granted.”

“I can do everything, there are no side effects. You’d never know I had it,” Heather says. “I tell the kids I’m the bionic woman now because I can really hear them well. Instead of saying, ‘What? What?’ to them, I say, ‘You’re too loud!’”

Heather wasn’t the only one to benefit from the expertise of the doctors at University of Utah Health's Ear, Nose, and Throat clinic. After relating her experience to her pediatrician’s nurse during a regular check-up, the nurse confided to Heather that she thought she was going deaf in one ear. Heather encouraged her to go to the clinic for testing. The nurse had the same condition, and has also regained her hearing through surgery.

Heather says, “How do you thank someone for giving you your sense of hearing back? It was pretty amazing, so I baked cookies for Dr. Shelton. That’s a start.”

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