Hill family photo with Suskind

When considering a cochlear implant (CI), patients and their families should consider that the implant process is the start of a lifetime relationship with the institution and CI team where the surgery is performed Patients can feel confident that the University of Chicago CI program is outstanding. We routinely treat even the most complex cases, serving as one of the most comprehensive and experienced CI teams in the Chicagoland region

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is different than a traditional hearing aid. In simple terms, a traditional hearing aid picks up sound via a microphone and makes it louder, sending the signal through your auditory system. This is considered an ACOUSTIC signal. With different hearing losses, a hearing aid may not provide enough audibility and speech clarity. 

Cochlear implants use an ELECTRICAL signal to stimulate the hearing nerve and send the information to your brain using a surgically placed internal component. The sound is picked up by the microphones of an external piece worn behind the ear or on the head and communicates with the internal implant. This external processor can be taken off throughout the day. 

Illustration of how a cochlear implant works
Illustration of how a cochlear implant works.

Cochlear implant services

Our Cochlear Implant Program provides comprehensive testing for pre-implant candidacy, as well as post-implant rehabilitation and mapping services. Below please find a comprehensive list of available services:

  • Comprehensive hearing assessment
  • Cochlear implant consultations
  • Educational liaison to provide educational support
  • Mappings
  • Equipment checks and maintenance
  • Bimodal hearing aid services
  • Auditory verbal therapy
  • Aural habilitation therapy
  • Candidate speech-language evaluations


Who is a candidate for cochlear implants?

Cochlear implants are not for everyone. To know whether a cochlear implant may be right for your child, we first need to know the extent of his or her hearing loss.

Cochlear implants are used to help children who have sensorineural hearing loss who get little or no benefit from hearing aids.

Your UChicago provider will work with you to determine whether a hearing aid or cochlear implant is right for your child.

Cochlear implantation can be performed on children as young as 9 months old.

The earlier your child receives an implant, the greater the potential is that he/she will develop listening/speaking skills at the same level as their peers who have no hearing loss. Our multidisciplinary cochlear implant team has the ability and resources to help your child make as much progress as possible with listening/speaking skills.

For your child to be successful with their cochlear implant, your family must make this strong commitment together. We know that you are the most important part of the process for any child.

If you are considering this treatment for your child, there are many families with children have had cochlear implants at Comer Children’s that would be happy to share their experiences with you during your decision-making process.

Frequently asked questions: Cochlear implant surgery

Initial evaluation is done on an outpatient basis. It is noninvasive and usually takes several hours.

Our audiologists will administer a series of tests individually tailored to your child's condition. Common assessments include:

  • Behavioral audiometric evaluation, with and without hearing aids
  • Speech perception testing to determine the functional benefit of hearing aids
  • Immittance measurements to determine if the child has or may have a tendency toward middle ear fluid
  • Electrophysiologic testing to gather information about inner ear and auditory nerve function

Parents are asked to complete questionnaires to help determine functional hearing and hearing aid benefit.

Speech and language evaluation and educational plan assessments are ongoing components of the process involved in helping your child attain appropriate developmental levels.

After your child’s cochlear implant evaluation with audiology, you and your child will meet with one of our surgeons for a medical evaluation. During the appointment, we will do a detailed history and physical examination, and if needed, we may ask for imaging (either a CT scan and/or MRI) of the temporal bone will be often be performed to assess the anatomy of the inner ear. We will discuss with you which of your child's ear(s) make sense to implant. It is important to consider your child’s overall medical health and surgical risk, as this is a procedure performed under general anesthesia.

Cochlear implant surgery is a routine outpatient procedure that typically lasts two to three hours, but we like for your child to stay overnight so we can monitor their progress. During surgery, a small incision is made behind the ear to access the mastoid bone, which is partially drilled away to give access to the inner ear structures and allow the internal device to be seated. Your child will wake up with a gauze dressing over the ear that should remain in place for 24 to 48 hours after surgery to help reduce swelling. Once removed, please keep the incision dry until your child's surgeon tells you that it can get wet. Pain after surgery is usually minimal, typically acetaminaphen or ibuprofen is enough to relieve your child's pain. Additionally, the surgeon may prescribe a course of antibiotics to take after surgery to help your child prevent infection. 

At Comer Children’s, you may wait in the operating room until the anesthesia takes effect and your child is asleep — one of many extra steps our cochlear implant team takes to assure the best experience for your child and for you. For your comfort, we can also arrange an overnight stay for your child and family.

Three to four weeks after surgery, your child returns to have the implanted device activated. This involves linking the implanted internal receiver to the external speech processor. The audiologist creates the initial MAP or program, which allows your child to hear sound for the first time with the cochlear implant.

This is a truly momentous occasion — the moment at which your child moves from a world of silence into a world of sound. Our surgeon and staff celebrate this major turning point in your child’s life with you at a "Hearing Birthday" party, which marks a totally new beginning for your child and family.

Once the cochlear implant is activated, your child returns for check-ups and therapy on a regular basis. Typically, there are evaluations at the two-week, one-month, three-month, six-month and nine-month marks. At each evaluation, your child’s speech processor is remapped and additional testing is provided as needed. Each child hears differently, and our audiologists excel at matching programs to each child’s unique style of hearing. Quarterly speech therapy appointments with our speech-language pathologist/auditory-verbal therapist document the progress your child is making in listening and spoken language.

After the first year, audiograms and speech perception tests are given every six months for two to three years, and then switch to annually. Programming is done at the same intervals, and speech and language evaluation is done once every six months or on an annual basis. If necessary, your child may require more frequent follow-up visits.

If you live far away and/or it is not convenient for you to come here on a regular basis, we work with you to find health care professionals in your area who can provide care that is both appropriate and convenient.

Additional resources

There are a variety of resources available for parents of children with cochlear implants.

Meet Our Pediatric Cochlear Implant Experts

Pediatric Audiologists

Samantha Dixon
Dr. Dixon is a pediatric audiologist specializing in diagnostic evaluations (including Auditory Evoked Potentials) and hearing loss interventions, such as hearing aids, osseointegrated devices, and cochlear implantation. She is the coordinator for the Newborn Hearing Program, and audiology coordinator for the Craniofacial/Cleft Lip and Palate team. Dr. Dixon received her Bachelor of Science degree at Florida State University, and her Doctorate of Audiology at Missouri State University. She completed her clinical externship at University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Dixon provides audiology services at Hyde Park (Tuesday and Thursday) and Orland Park (Wednesday and Friday) locations.
Ali Marquess

Ali Marquess is a pediatric audiologist specializing in diagnostic evaluations (including Auditory Brainstem Response Evaluations) and interventions. Dr. Marquess received her Bachelor of Arts degree in Audiology from Indiana University Bloomington and her Doctorate of Audiology from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She completed her clinical externship here at University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Marquess provides audiology services for the inpatient population.

Joshua Sevier
Dr. Sevier is a cochlear implant audiologist and the clinical program manager of our hearing loss program. His clinical interests include cochlear implants and providing services via telepractice. He was formerly an assistant professor at a doctor of audiology program where he taught classes and supervised students in the department's cochlear implant program. Dr. Sevier has published numerous articles in peer-review journals and continues research of cochlear implants. He graduated with his Doctor of Audiology degree from Pacific University and completed his clinical fellowship training here at the University of Chicago Medicine. Dr. Sevier is certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and is a Fellow at the American Academy of Audiology. 
Brittney Sprouse, AuD

Brittney Sprouse, Au.D., is the manager of Audiology and a pediatric audiologist at UChicago Medicine. Dr. Sprouse received her Doctorate in Audiology from the Northeast Ohio Au.D. Consortium (University of Akron) in 2009. Dr. Sprouse is an American Board of Audiology Certified audiologist and holds the Pediatric Audiology Specialty Certification (PASC). Dr. Sprouse’s clinical interests include electrophysiology; cochlear implants; ototoxicity monitoring; management of special populations; outreach and education. She has been actively involved on the state and national level, including 2019 President of the Illinois Academy of Audiology (ILAA), Past President of the Ohio Academy of Audiology (OAA), additional board and committee positions, and is currently on the board of directors for the American Cochlear Implant Alliance (ACIA).

Katie Swail
Dr. Swail is a pediatric audiologist specializing in cochlear implantation and vestibular evaluation. She received her bachelor’s degree from University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and she received her Doctorate of Audiology from Rush University. Dr. Swail completed her audiology externship at University of Chicago Medicine, and continues to be a contributing member of the Pediatric Hearing Loss Team.
Emily Trittschuch

Emily Trittschuh is a pediatric audiologist with special interests in inpatient and newborn hearing, electrophysiology, central auditory processing disorders, and amplification. She received her bachelor of science degree from Purdue University and her Doctorate of Audiology from Rush University in Chicago, IL. Dr. Trittschuh enjoys completing continuing education courses to provide the most up to date testing and recommendations for her pediatric patients.

Pediatric Speech Language Pathologists

Caitlin Egan, MS

Caitlin Egan, M.S., CCC-SLP is a licensed American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in working with children with hearing loss. She has worked at UChicago Medicine and has been a member of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant and Hearing Loss Program since 2019. Her interests include providing comprehensive speech and language interventions in both spoken language and American Sign Language (ASL). She is currently working towards obtaining her credential as a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist (LSLS Cert. AVT). Caitlin obtained her Master of Science degree in Speech Language Pathology from Western Illinois University in 2014, and her Bachelor of Science degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from Western Illinois in 2012.

Michelle Havlik

Michelle Havlik, MHS, CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert AVT is a licensed American Speech Language Hearing Association (ASHA) certified speech-language pathologist who specializes in listening and spoken language development in children with hearing loss. She has worked at UChicago Medicine and has been a member of the Pediatric Cochlear Implant and Hearing Loss Program since 2009. She became a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist (LSLS Cert. AVT) in 2014 and has been a credentialed Early Intervention Specialist and Evaluator since 2007. She obtained her Master of Health Science degree in Communication Disorders from Governors State University in 2006 and her Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech-Language Pathology from Elmhurst College in 2001.

Dennis Hears for the First Time

We caught on tape when 10-month-old Dennis heard for the first time with a cochlear implant. Dana L. Suskind, MD also gave one to his dad, Michael, nine years earlier at UChicago Medicine.

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To speak to someone directly, please call 1-773-702-1865. If you have symptoms of an urgent nature, please call your doctor or go to the emergency room immediately.


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Cochlear Implants