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TUCSON, Ariz. - LoriAnn Harnish, 53, of Scottsdale has become the first person in the Southwest to get an implanted and invisible hearing device called Esteem.

Harnish suffered from hearing loss since she was five years old. She wore hearing aids for many years but often times they would cause irritation and infection.

Dr. Abraham Jacob, an associate professor from the University of Arizona Department of Surgery Division of Otarlaryngology said Harnish received the surgically implanted device on Sept. 27.

"With this device your hearing can be on potentially at night, if you jump in the swimming pool, if you get in the shower," Dr. Jacob said. "The device can not only be left on for 24 hours but has an adjustable volume. The battery needs to be replaced every five to nine years, depending on the amount of use."

According to Dr. Jacob, the device uses a person's own ear as a microphone, picking up sounds through the ear canal and using the body's natural anatomy to reduce the background noise, distortion and acoustic feedback that people experience with conventional hearing aids. It also addresses several sources of dissatisfaction with conventional hearing aids such as discomfort and being unable to wear them around water.

With the growing number of older Americans, Dr. Jacob said Esteem could improve the lives of many with hearing impairment, like it did with Harnish. Dr. Jacob said she enjoys the device so much that she's planning on having surgery on her other ear within the year.

Insurance companies in Arizona do not currently cover Esteem, but Dr. Jacob believes with sufficient pressure from patients hopefully they will soon.

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