WHAT do you ask for on your birthday when you are 103 years old?
Leslie Hodgson knew exactly what he wanted: his hearing back.
And clinicians at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were happy to help, breaking two world records in the process.
In March 2022 Leslie became the oldest person in the world to receive a cochlear implant thanks to the ear, nose and throat (ENT) team at The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.
He also became the oldest person globally to receive a subtotal petrousectomy – a procedure to clear out the lining of his mastoid (part of the skull located just behind the ear).
On his 103rd birthday, Leslie, a retired architect from Penrith, walked in to the Teesside hospital and asked for a cochlear implant to help him regain his hearing for the first time in ten years.
Mr Noweed Ahmad, consultant ENT, skullbase and auditory implant surgeon at the trust said: “Leslie walked into my clinic, told me it was his 103rd birthday and that (after researching it) he wanted a cochlear implant to restore his hearing.
“Discussing it with my colleagues and taking into account that he was also registered blind, we felt that we should carefully consider his request.
“As long as it was safe and beneficial for Leslie – and he would have to be put through a number of tests to establish that – we could proceed, because quality of life in older patients has been shown to improve significantly with a cochlear implant.
Deafness is the second most common disability in the UK. One in six of UK adults have a hearing loss and many suffer in silence. Only 5% of people in the UK who could benefit from a cochlear implant are estimated to have received one."Mr Noweed Ahmad, consultant ENT, skullbase and auditory implant surgeon
“This remarkable man came to us for help and has shown that you are never too old to have a cochlear implant. It can be life changing.”
A far cry from Leslie’s first ear operation
A cochlear implant is a prosthetic device that uses electrical stimulation to provide the sense of sound. It is surgically implanted behind the ear.
This is a far cry from Leslie’s first ear operation in 1925 (a mastoidectomy), which was done with a hammer and chisel and which made his recent surgery even more complicated as he needed a subtotal petrousectomy too, 97 years later, to clear out the lining of his mastoid.
As well has having problems with his hearing for most of his life, Leslie is also registered blind and can only see things when they are very close up.
Mr Ahmad said: “Blindness cuts you off from things but deafness cuts you off from people. Since his hearing deteriorated, Leslie had been trapped in a cocoon of silence made worse by blindness.
“He has no family left and used to communicate with friends through the telephone but could not any longer.”
Due to Leslie’s age, the operation was done under local anaesthetic, which meant he was awake for both the operations performed in one procedure. It also meant the operations had to be completed in a much shorter time by his surgeon, Mr Ahmad.
Since the operation, Leslie has returned to the hospital to get his implant successfully switched on.
Ruth Cole, audiologist at the trust said: “When an implant is first switched on it sounds very strange as it is an electrical stimulus and this is new information for the brain to try to make sense of.
“Conventional hearing aids, which Leslie wore previously, only use an acoustic stimulus. For this reason, at switch on of a cochlear implant, some people just hear beeping noises and some people say that all speech sounds like a robot or a cartoon character.
“The brain has never heard the complex speech signals as electrical information before.
“Following switch on Leslie can now hear some environmental noises and speech sounds but it will take time for his hearing levels and the clarity to improve.
“We hope this will enable Leslie to communicate with those around him again and feel connected to his environment.”
Eyes to the future…
Despite having a record-breaking operation to fix his hearing, Leslie is not standing still and now wants to tackle his blindness.
He said: “Next year I want stem cell treatment for my eyes.” And with Leslie’s determination, you would not bet against it.