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Muskegon professor gets bionic ear

"I’m ready for my brain and my eyes to work together, so I can navigate this world."

MUSKEGON, Mich. — Muskegon Community College will soon be home to Michigan's first man with a bionic ear. 

Dr. Shawn Macauley, a professor and department head of Life Sciences at the school has undergone his first step in the experimental surgery.

This implant will be Macauley's first glimmer of hope in 23 years after he suffered an accidental antibiotic overdose when being treated for a dental infection. The sensors in his ears were destroyed, leaving him with issues balancing and seeing clearly.

"I’m ready for the world to stop moving and I’m ready for my brain and my eyes to work together, so I can navigate this world, more fluidly, more beautifully," he said.

The bionic ear is a surgical implant, which uses motion sensors to stimulate the vestibular nerve. It's currently under experimental trial at John Hopkins Hospital, where an estimated 15 patients will take part. Macauley is number eight. The goal of the surgery is to help patients regain their sense of balance, similarly to how a cochlear implant device helps patients regain hearing.

Macauley first heard about the trial around two years ago. And after multiple tests and surveys, he was selected out of hundreds of hopefuls to undergo the initial surgery.

"I now have electrodes that go into the balance part of the ear and in two weeks, I will get the external activated," he said.

For the treatment to be complete, he will travel to Baltimore in October to receive the implant's external device and have it activated. The device will be on the side of Macauley's right ear, and once activated, is expected to offer relief quickly.

"I’m excited because I’ve been told all of sudden, I’m [going to] have this awareness, and my ear will and my brain will - for the first time in 23 years -  know that when I shake my head, what to do with that information," he explained.

Macauley said he's excited to be able to see his students during class and in the hallways and will feel more confident walking around, knowing that he won't fall over. 

However, he said the greatest hope he has for the future is to be able to sit comfortably in the stands and watch his son play soccer and not have everything be a big blur. 

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