Like the strikes of her favorite past time, it took three sneezes to take out Phyllis Shotwell's hearing. A devoted Baltimore Orioles fan all of her 88 years, Shotwell was watching television one night last November when her sneezing resulted in total loss of hearing.
Shotwell, a Westminster resident who has had hearing issues for over a decade, had grown accustomed to watching her beloved birds rather than hearing them. But she wanted to hear something.
"I pretty much knew who got out. I didn't miss anything," Shotwell said of watching games. "I knew three strikes was an out. But when they tell you, that's better."
After consulting with her family members — she lives with her sister and her family in Westminster — she agreed to be fitted with a cochlear implant in her right ear at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The out-patient surgery was performed at the end of January, and the implant was activated on Feb. 23.
"She is doing so well with one, she decided to stay with just that one," said Regina Presley, a senior audiologist for GBMC. "It was perfect timing. She started a new world of sound and the O's started to have their best season in a long time."
"I'm an O's fan all the way," Shotwell said, beaming. "I never miss them on television."
Shotwell is so happy with her implant, she wants to encourage others to consider it.
"I definitely recommend it," she said. "If a person is eligible ... it is a very good thing. If you do it and get your hearing back, you gain something. If you don't, you haven't lost anything because you couldn't hear any way."
Since her implant was activated, Shotwell has gradually become aware of more and more sounds, from a cricket outside her window to the bingo caller calling her numbers.
"I could hear," Shotwell said of attending her first bingo game with implants at the Carroll County Ag Center. "That's a big place and I could hear."
Cochlear implants have been available for 25 years, according to Presley, though not everyone knows about it.
"There are lots of people out there who qualify who are not aware of the technology," Presley said.
Dr. Scott London, director of the GBMC Cochlear Implant Center and a surgeon involved in Shotwell's care, said, "Severe hearing loss in the elderly is a huge problem, and its impact is profound. Elderly people who are in otherwise good health may be excellent candidates for cochlear implantation.
"It's exciting to see the dramatic positive impact that implantation can have on quality of life, regardless of the recipient's age," London said.
As the O's continue their run for a playoff bid, Shotwell will be rooting for them. Shotwell said she never misses a game on TV, although admittedly she stays awake only for the first few innings of West Coast games.
"They're just going to keep on winning," Shotwell said of the team. "You can't say a thing against them. Those boys are good."