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'You don't say 'what' anymore:' Bemidji man's life changes after cochlear implant

A Bemidji, Minnesota man is back hunting and playing music after hearing loss cost him so much of life's moments. Moments many of us take for granted. The solution came in the form of a cochlear implant. The science has dramatically improved over the years, and now it's as simple as a phone app and Bluetooth technology.

Sanford audiologist, Kayla McClellan, adjusts the cochlear implant for Dennis Barrett of Bemidji, Minnesota.
Ryan Longnecker / WDAY News
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FARGO — Inside audiologist Kayla McClellan's room at Sanford on Wednesday, Oct. 26, Dennis Barrett of Bemidji was getting his cochlear implant system a checkup.

Barrett, 57, is an active runner, hunter and musician, but recently his hearing not only began to fade, it took a dive.

"At that point, I had lost quite a bit more on the right side, but I also lost more on my left side as well too," said Barrett, a longtime nurse and health care executive at Sanford Bemidji.

"So then this spring it really got bad where I was just struggling really bad," Barrett said.

It impacted everything in his life. Work, family and social situations.


"With the hearing loss.... I would come home just exhausted because you're just always trying to hear," he said.

So a few weeks ago, Barrett got a cochlear implant.

"The processor (is) on the outside with a magnet. (...) What it does is it takes sound with mics on the outside, (digitizes) it into an electrical impulse, and then the electrical impulse shocks the inside of the cochlea which then stimulates the nerve to my brain," Barrett explained.

The results have been amazing. Days after surgery, Barrett got his cochlear implant activated.

It was an emotional moment, with his life changing immediately.

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"I put it (on) and I plugged my ear because I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was true words. She tested, and I could hear my wife and (...) it was just so cool," Barrett said.

Sanford ENT, Dr. Matthew Miller, says close to 140 people now get this procedure, and all with a story.

"He's been a superuser from day one, so he's just gonna continue to do better and better," said Miller, a Sanford ear, nose, and throat specialist.


Wednesday was a chance to see and hear the progress, hearing and repeating sentences like, "Wouldn't you like to be a pepper too?"

Barrett is coming to realize this technology is changing everything.

"The coolest thing was last night. My daughter, I was talking with her, and she said, 'Dad, you don't say 'what' as much anymore,' and she said, 'you actually know what we are talking about,'" Barrett said, choking back tears.

Kevin Wallevand has been a Reporter at WDAY-TV since 1983. He is a native of Vining, Minnesota in Otter Tail County. His series and documentary work have brought him to Africa, Vietnam, Haiti, Kosovo, South America, Mongolia, Juarez,Mexico and the Middle East. He is an multiple Emmy and national Edward R. Murrow award recipient.

Contact Email: kwallevand@wday.com
Phone Number: (701) 241-5317
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