'It was life-changing.' Former teacher who lost hearing decades ago gets cochlear implant

Posted at 6:29 PM, Dec 19, 2019

LAPEER COUNTY, Mich. (WXYZ) — A former teacher in Lapeer County received a special gift this season after a rare virus destroyed his ability to communicate with his students.

Robert Lott is a loving husband, father, grandfather, and a man who loves teaching. For decades, he taught in Lapeer County, but something happened on Christmas break in 1998.

"I got sick, a sore throat, and I thought I'd have to spend the whole Christmas break doctoring myself," he told 7 Action News' Carolyn Clifford.

It turns out it was a rare virus, and antibiotics didn't make it better.

The infection went from his throat up into his ear, destroying his structures of hearing. It would force Lott to say goodbye to the classroom.

"All of the sudden, I was not hearing them, and they began to pick up on that," he said.

"Was it devastating?" Clifford asked.

"First I was in denial. Eventually, doctors were starting to tell me the grim truth that my hearing was gone and it wasn't going to come back," he said.

Lott went to see neurologist Dr. Seilesh Babu of the Michigan Ear Institute in Southfield, a partner of Ascension Providence.

"Hearing loss is a very isolating event," he said. "When it occurs, people become depressed, so they don't interact with people as much."

Babu told Lott about the cochlear implant – a small electronic device that helps people hear.

The device is placed inside a patient's head with a new technology called the Olympus Orbeye. It allows a surgeon to use 3-D high-definition technology for pinpoint accuracy.

Babu said everyone in the operating room wears special classes to allow them to see the operation up close.

"It's such a change in the way we do surgery that it is really making a big impact," Babu said. "To the point where I think many operating rooms in the country will start expanding to use this type of technology."

Babu and his team were the first in the country to use the Olympus Orbeye on a hearing patient. That was four months ago. It took three weeks for Lott to heal before the implant could be activated. That's when Lott heard for the first time in more than two decades.

"When she turned that on, it was, well, I'm not one to get teary-eyed but to start hearing where I had not heard all those years was something," Lott said.

Lott and his wife are forever grateful he can once again hear her, his children and his grandchildren, and now he's sharing his inspiration story at his church.

"It was life-changing," he said. "I'm pastoring these last several years and I'm actually hearing people from the other side of the room."

Nearly 325,000 people have cochlear implants around the world, and it's available for people who only have 30 percent of their hearing. It is covered by insurance if you qualify.