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The Daily Tar Heel

UNC doctor helped one NC veteran regain his hearing

Marine Corps veteran Dac Carpenter and his wife Holly play with their daughter. An implant let Dac Carpenter regain all of the hearing in his left ear.

Marine Corps veteran Dac Carpenter and his wife Holly play with their daughter. An implant let Dac Carpenter regain all of the hearing in his left ear.

“Just hearing my daughter laugh and giggle and stuff — it almost brings tears to my face every time I hear her voice, because it reminds me of when I was deaf.”

Carpenter was injured in explosions while deployed in Iraq, which contributed to the complete loss of hearing in his left ear and the loss of 80 percent of hearing in his right ear. Carpenter also suffered from a traumatic brain injury.

But since Dr. Oliver Adunka surgically implanted a hearing device, Carpenter has regained 100 percent of the hearing in his left ear — something he thought would never happen.

He is one of 14 people in the country to undergo the surgery and — pending FDA approval — he will be the only one to have the hearing aid implanted in both ears.

“Words can’t describe how much this has changed my life,” Carpenter said.

Adunka said Carpenter had a mix of inner- and middle-ear problems due to his injury; the part of the ear a hearing aid would usually connect to was blown out, making the installation of a device problematic.

The sound bridge implanted in Carpenter’s ear is usually intended for use in the middle ear and clips onto a bone in the ear.

“This device was built for people who only have hearing loss in the inner ear,” said Adunka, who at the time of the surgery was an ear, nose and throat specialist with UNC Health Care but has since taken a position at Ohio State.

He said that due to the severity of the damage in Carpenter’s ear, the device was placed on the round window, the opening to the inner ear, which allows the device to bypass the middle ear and directly stimulate the inner ear.

Adunka said the device basically replaces the function of the middle ear.

The sound bridge is held in place by a magnet, which sits on the outside of Carpenter’s head. When Carpenter removes the magnet, he can no longer hear.

Adunka said although Carpenter’s traumatic brain problem was discussed, he was very confident the surgery would be successful.

“I wasn’t really too worried about that it wasn’t going to work,” he said.

Though the use of this sound bridge is FDA approved, the use of the device on this specific part of the ear is not. If it is approved, Carpenter said he is the first on the list to get the surgery done for his other ear.

“We’re just standing by and waiting,” he said.

Carpenter’s wife, Holly Carpenter, said that before he received the surgery, he didn’t really join in conversations with others because he couldn’t hear them, and he had to read lips.

“It’s really brought back most of his personality,” Holly Carpenter said.

Men and women who serve in the armed forces sometimes fear coming forward with injuries because of the risks associated with surgery and their status as active-duty military personnel. Carpenter said he hopes his story will help many military men and women be more open about injuries.

“A lot of people don’t want to complain about their medical injuries because their time (in the service) will get cut short,” he said.

Carpenter said he would love to be a spokesman for this hearing aid at UNC.

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“If my story can help at least one person, then I’d be more than willing to help people about this hearing aid device,” he said.