MINNEAPOLIS—A dramatic YouTube video showing a young woman’s emotional response to hearing with her newly activated middle ear implant has now been viewed 8 million times. So it’s no surprise that the video has generated a tsunami of inquiries to Envoy Medical, the Twin Cities company that manufactures the Esteem system that made 29-year-old Sarah Churman so happy.
According to a report last week by MedCity News, Envoy had a 150% jump in sales inquiries. In addition to going viral on YouTube, the moving story of the Texas wife and mother of two who was born with a severe hearing loss has been picked up my numerous national media. Churman appeared first on the NBC Today Show with her husband, Sloan, who was the one who videotaped her as she burst into tears of joy at being able to hear so much better. She was also a guest on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, where it was announced that Envoy would reimburse the $30,000 cost of the implant and pay for an implant for her other ear.
Fox and Friends and CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta also covered the story.
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While the story was inspiring, Sarah Churman’s statements that she had been born deaf and had never heard her voice before getting the Esteem raised some questions, including on a Hearing View posted October 4 on Hearinghealthmatters.org. Adding to the skepticism was that Churman’s speech revealed little or none of the inflections that are usually noticeable in the speech of people who have been deaf all their lives.
In an interview with MedCity News, Patrick Spearman, CEO of Envoy Medical, addressed some of the questions. Spearman, who insisted that his company had had nothing to do with the videotape, said that Churman’s hearing loss was in the range of 70-75 dB at 1500-2000 Hz. Thus, audiologically speaking, she has a severe hearing loss. But Spearman pointed out, “It’s a matter of semantics and how you define deaf.” He said that people often refer to those with severe hearing loss as deaf, just as Churman does about herself.
Similarly, he said, when the young woman said she had never heard her own voice before, she meant that she had never heard it as it really sounds to others. He told the reporter, “She could hear something. Not a lot, and not very well, but she could hear tones and sounds or she wouldn’t be able to speak.”