Bionic Hearing - The Incredible Hulk's New Super Power

Julia Métraux

Health Writer

Lou Ferrigno, the former professional bodybuilder and actor known for playing the title character on TV’s The Incredible Hulk, has lived with 80 percent hearing loss since childhood. However, this past February, he decided to take a big step: He underwent surgery to get the Cochlear™ Nucleus® Profile™ Plus Implant.

Ferrigno told Hearing Tracker that receiving the cochlear implant (or CI) has played a key role in helping both him and those around him.

“I can engage in conversation just like everybody else,” Ferrigno said. “My whole life, I've had a speech impediment that’s changing now because of the cochlear implant. My diction is so much better compared to before.” He also notes that people no longer have to stand right in front of him so that he can hear what they’re saying, another big improvement.

Deciding to get a cochlear implant

Cochlear implants are designed to help people who do not find success with hearing aids, which tends to be those with more profound hearing loss, although this is changing. “A cochlear-implant candidate might have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears, or severe to profound hearing loss in the high frequencies only for both ears, or single-sided deafness,” said Sarah Sparks, Au.D., founder of Audiology Outside the Box PLLC and a cochlear-implant user herself, in a conversation with Hearing Tracker. “There is no maximum age cut-off, and deaf children as young as nine months of age may also be candidates according to the current criteria.”

Before deciding to receive cochlear implants, which has two parts—the external sound processor and an implant that is surgically placed under the skin—Ferrigno wore hearing aids during different periods of his life. He felt it was important to talk about his hearing loss due to scrutiny in the entertainment industry. “I had to tell the world that I had a hearing issue because my speech was not understandable, and people thought maybe I was drunk,” he said.

Ferrigno viewed his hearing aids as helpful, but they did not transform his life the way that cochlear implants have. “My whole life, I've always needed more and more power [from hearing aids], but now I don't need that power, because I hear. I have clarity [from my cochlear implants],” Ferrigno said.

Integrating cochlear implants into one’s repertoire

While cochlear implants can be transformative for some people, Sparks notes the importance of recognizing that these devices, like hearing aids, are “helpful tools that are one piece of a person’s holistic communication.” Getting a CI doesn’t change who a person is on the inside. It provides additional opportunities for language and communication, and more opportunities are never a bad thing,” Sparks said. “It doesn’t mean that a person can’t also communicate in sign language and use a variety of helpful communication tools beyond CIs.”

The decision to move from hearing aids to cochlear implants can be intimidating and take time. Sparks explains that “a person who doesn’t realize the limitations of the technology before being implanted may become discouraged because they aren’t suddenly experiencing perfect hearing after activation. There will be hard work involved in adjusting to cochlear implants after using hearing aids long-term, but in my personal experience, the effort has been worth all of the challenges along the way.”

Spotlight on CIs

Ferrigno hopes that seeing a public person like him receiving and benefiting from cochlear implants will inspire others to do the same. “I would say to [....] people out there all over the world thinking about getting a cochlear implant, go for it because it's a wonderful life-changing experience,” he said. If you are already wearing hearing aids and are considering cochlear implants, speak to your audiologist or visit CheckMyHearingAid.com to learn more.