Hearing is believing: One of the biggest public tertiary health facilities has changed peoples lives with cochlear implants

Some of the cochlear implant patients who’ve never looked back since the life changing procedure. Picture: Supplied / Western Cape Government

Some of the cochlear implant patients who’ve never looked back since the life changing procedure. Picture: Supplied / Western Cape Government

Published Apr 16, 2024


The recipients of cochlear implants and their families celebrated a proud milestone at Tygerberg Hospital on Saturday, April 6.

The cochlear implant is an electronic hearing device that device is made to go around the damaged parts of the inner ear by electrically stimulating the hearing nerve. The nerve then sends a signal to the brain where it is interpreted as sound.

Cochlear implantation is recommended for individuals with moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss who obtain benefit from well-fitted hearing aids and require lifelong management.

The first programme to provide cochlear implants in Africa was established at Tygerberg Hospital-Stellenbosch University in 1986.

It was led by Professor Derrick Wagenfield, a doctor who specialises in ear, nose and throat issues and Lida Müller, an audiologist. Since then, about 1,300 surgeries have been done. By the end of 2023, 1,014 patients had received implants.

Tygerberg Hospital is one of the biggest public tertiary health in the country that offers cochlear implants. The Tygerberg Hospital-Stellenbosch University Cochlear Implant Programme services both State and private sector patients, and their team do around 60 to 70 surgeries every year.

The team checks if a person is a good fit for the surgery by doing a thorough assessment involving different experts to make sure the surgery has the best possible results.

Jennifer Perold, coordinator and chief audiologist of the cochlear implant programme at Tygerberg Hospital said: “despite decades of evidence confirming the transformative power of cochlear implantation, it is estimated that only about 5-10% of people who are candidates for cochlear implants actually receive them.

“If, despite having well-fitted hearing aids, a person still struggles to follow phone and general conversations without being able to see the person’s face, it is recommended to request a referral to a cochlear implant team for an evaluation,” said Perold.

Athule Mgodeli, 27, lost his hearing when he was 10 due to an illness called pneumococcal meningitis. He became the 1,000th person to get a cochlear implant at Tygerberg Hospital on September 29, 2023. Mgodeli worked hard to finish school by reading lips, and after getting the implant, he got a job as a digital marketer that he still has today.

Mgodeli’s condition affected almost every aspect of his life before he got his cochlear implant. It was tough for him to be in school and to later find a job. People did not always understand that he needed for them to speak slowly so he could read their lips.

Mgodeli excitedly said that being deaf held him back and limited what he could do.

“Although I have used the cochlear device for a few months, it feels like I have received a new lease on life. The device has opened up so many possibilities and opportunities, I feel like I am able to do anything. Previously, I always felt like something was missing. With the cochlear implant, I have discovered what was missing in my life.”

He felt excluded from conversations and had trouble making friends and that he felt vulnerable because he could not hear what was going on around him.

He mentioned that deafness also caused problems for his family. Since using the cochlear implant for a few months, it is like he have been given a fresh start in life.

“I love my cochlear implant because it has done so much for me. I can hear even the slightest sound such as the keyboard, TV and music. The cochlear implant has provided endless possibilities for me and I believe that I will grow. Thank you to Tygerberg Hospital and all the contributors for making this possible,” said Mgodeli.

He expressed his deepest gratitude for the implant and said it would not be possible without their assistance.

Dr Matodzi Mukosi, CEO at Tygerberg Hospital said: “Our cochlear implant unit is one of the flagship units in the country which has changed the lives of so many people for the better. The story of Athule is a testimony to the excellent services delivered at Tygerberg Hospital by our highly skilled and dedicated healthcare professionals.”

Professor Nomafrench Mbombo, Western Cape Minister of Health and Wellness, also added that she is very proud of Tygerberg Hospital for over 1,000 surgeries that have changed people’s lives. As the country’s second biggest public hospital, Tygerberg is crucial in the healthcare system for offering advanced and complicated treatments to patients.

“This achievement further cements its role in this regard and as Minister, I look forward to the innovations it will continue to achieve in the future. This programme, like so much of the work done by our professional medical teams, shows that despite the significant challenges faced, we are doing leading work that we can all be proud of,” said Mbombo.