About the solution
Michael Nicoletti is a retired army specialist who ended up losing his hearing gradually and insidiously over the course of a few years. The straw that broke the camel's back was the moment when he was watching TV, and his wife would set the volume for about 20, all while he could only begin to listen to anything that was being said at the 45 volume point.
He had a hearing problem, that was certain, and as an engineer himself, he needed to solve it. This is when he turned to a pantry staple: a simple drinking straw.
When looking at the straws, he began to think, what would happen if he cut one of those straws off? And so he did. He cut two pieces off, about an inch long, and stuck them in his ears, which allowed him to listen to the TV at the 20 volume set point. Unfortunately, this wasn't a permanent fix, and this is when he turned to Dr. Kent Flanagan, an audiologist who works at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Centers in Charleston, South Carolina.
After getting the diagnosis of acquired atresia, a condition where the ear canal collapses, which Nicoletti had in both his ears, the doctor told him that the condition could be fixed surgically. After deciding that surgery wasn't an option, he decided to team up with Flanagan and develop their own device, using the straws as a starting point.
Within months, the stents were 3D printed and they were granted the Veterans Association's first compassionate use approval by the FDA, which means that they can only be used by Nicoletti, pending further research and clinical trials.
There are over a million veterans in the USA who suffer from hearing loss, whether it's due to noise exposure during military service, the normal changes that come with aging, or acquired conditions like Mr. Nicoletti's. There is a world of possibilities for this small, yet big solution.
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