Stephen Latus: Taking Back My Life After Sudden Hearing Loss

Stephen Latus was a 25-year-old sports writer in Marquette, Michigan, in 1982, when he answered the phone in the newsroom and didn’t hear anyone on the other end. Thinking it was a wrong number, he hung up. The caller called back and, by the third time, Steve realized he had suddenly lost hearing in his right ear. It happened overnight.

Doctors were unable to identify the cause of his sudden hearing loss. They ruled out an autoimmune disease and thought it might be the result of a viral infection or that he might have a genetic predisposition. (After doing some family research, Steve learned that relatives in previous generations on his father’s side had also experienced sudden hearing loss as adults.)

Despite severe to profound deafness in his right ear, Steve initially decided against a hearing aid and relied on his left ear. Nine years later, he opted for a hearing aid and shortly afterwards, he suddenly and inexplicably experienced acute hearing loss in his left ear, which prompted him to get a second hearing aid.

Steve continued to experience sudden progressive hearing loss in both ears every few years, requiring increasingly powerful hearing aids, but hearing aid technology was not keeping pace with his hearing loss. In 2017, after a visit to his audiologist, Steven was told that he failed his hearing test. While the news was not unexpected, Steven still felt stunned by the results, after all, he managed to get by with his condition for the past 35 years. “I absolutely bombed on my hearing test, specifically, my word comprehension in my right ear was nonexistent," recalls Steve. It was at that point his audiologist suggested he consider a cochlear implant

After his consultation with an otology specialist—Maura K. Cosetti, MD, Director of Otology/Neurotology at Mount Sinai Downtown and Associate Director of the Ear Institute at New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai—Steve felt more confident about the possibility of surgery and how it could improve his life. Still, making a choice to have surgery was not a decision he made lightly. Steve met with the Ear Institute’s social worker, Barbara Gordon, to make sure he was psychologically ready to undergo an implantation. She also helped to paint a realistic picture of the challenges and lifestyle adjustments he would face after the surgery. And when it came time to decide on the best technology for his hearing loss, Steve learned that, unlike other institutions, the Ear Institute was flexible in its approach. He was happy that they would provide a backup sound processor in case one malfunctioned. He liked the fact that the Ear Institute uses equipment from all three major cochlear implant manufacturers and that his audiologist, Lisa Goldin, explained the features and discussed the pros and cons of each, enabling him to choose the device that best suited his needs. Throughout this whole process Steve relied on the love and support of his wife. “My wife really encouraged me to get a cochlear implant,” asserts Steve, “she felt that I was reaching a point where I was withdrawing socially.”

Ultimately, he’s pleased with the results. “After 35 years of positioning myself with my left ear closer to sound, it’s freeing not to worry about where I’m sitting or standing,” Steve says. “Since the cochlear implant, I've experienced a steady stream of small victories and I’m in a happier place. A few months after activation I went to dinner in a busy theater district restaurant and held my own in conversation; then I went to a Broadway show that left me excited for what I had heard rather than disappointed for what I had missed. And if I ever reach the point where I need a cochlear implant for my other ear, I will come back to the Ear Institute without hesitation.”