Resident anticipates regaining his hearing
El Centro resident Miguel Duarte (right) communicates with sign language via video. Duarte is undergoing surgery next month to regain his hearing. (ALEJANDRO DAVILA)
“I am profoundly deaf,” Duarte said with his high-pitched voice revealing a slight Mexican accent.
Everything started when he was 18, he said, “that’s when I started getting sick.”
Dizziness, headaches, lack of balance and a ringing in the ears forced Duarte to visit a doctor. “I didn’t know what was wrong with me,” he said, and after several studies he was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis type 2.
The disorder is characterized by the chronic growth of noncancerous tumors in the nervous system, Duarte said, and this initially led to the growth of two tumors in his inner ear.
The first tumor was removed when he was 18, he said, and the second three years later. When these tumors are removed, the auditory nerve goes with it, Duarte said, so he was deaf by age 21.
But now, after 23 years of living in silence, Duarte is 95 percent sure he will regain his hearing. Next month he will undergo a surgery in Los Angeles where doctors will implant Auditory Brainstem Implants.
About 1,000 people worldwide have this technology that uses electricity to duplicate sound, he said. This will be his 14th operation, Duarte said, and “with the next one I (might) have a quinceañera.”
“I’m having a fantastic year,” Duarte said. The operation was approved by his insurance, he said, his two children are well and “I’m in a relationship.”
Still, he’s nervous and “it’s kind of scary, too,” Duarte said. This isn’t the first time that Duarte has been in contact with the ABI devices. In the mid-1980s he was sixth recipient of this technology when it was still in the experimental stages, Duarte said.
“I remember one experience,” recalled Duarte, when being tested and he couldn’t hear anything through the early ABI.
The specialists were consulting with each other and moving machines, he said, and then someone suggested that perhaps the device wasn’t plugged in. “And it wasn’t,” Duarte said.
In the end “unfortunately it did not work,” he said referring to ABI. “It gave me shocks inside my brain.”
But years have passed and the technology has improved, he said. Plus his 20-year-old daughter also suffers from neurofibromatosis, he said.
If he undergoes this treatment now, his daughter can be better informed, Duarte said, and can make better decisions when considering her treatment options.
Doctors expect him to be recovered in two months. Duarte is planning to record the day the device is tested, he said.
His children will be there and he’s considering what type of music to play first. “I’m thinking something like heavy metal, maybe some Journey,” he said, definitely something that has a meaning for me.
Staff Writer Alejandro Davila can be reached at 760-337-3445 or email@example.com