Kennedy Space Center
Sept. 13, 2002
Cochlear Implant Inventor Recognized 25 Years Later
Retired NASA engineer Adam Kissiah's design is proof that technology developed today can benefit humankind years after its creation.
As a result of his hearing problem and three failed corrective surgeries, Kissiah began researching other rehabilitative possibilities. In 1977, with no medical background, he developed today's widely used cochlear implant.
That personal quest, that lasted three years, not only benefited him but many more. Popular radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has credited the "medical marvel" for his ability to hear after a disease left him totally deaf in his left ear and 80 percent in his right.
Unlike a hearing aid, which just makes sounds louder, this invention selects information in the speech signal and then produces a pattern of electrical pulses in the patient's ear. It is impossible to make sounds completely natural, because a mere 22 electrodes are replacing the function of tens of thousands of hair cells in a normally hearing ear.
"It replaces the function of the hair cells that have been damaged, lost or destroyed by disease, drugs or trauma, or simply by inheritance," said Kissiah.
Kissiah uses an analogy to simplify the process. "It would be like all the inter-coastal waterway bridges in Florida being gone. If you were to suddenly remove all those bridges, there could be no communication from the mainland. The hair cells are the bridge -- the mechanical part of the ear," he said.
Now, 25 years after the implant was patented, Kissiah is getting the recognition he deserves by receiving an exceptional category NASA Space Act Award, which includes an appropriate monetary award and a certificate signed by the NASA Administrator.
According to Pam Bookman, KSC's Awards Liaison Officer, this points out that we can always go back and capture awards. Bookman frequently encourages KSC employees to report their significant contributions because some may believe innovative thinking is just part of their job.
"Recognition for this important invention is long over due," said Bookman. "This is the largest award ever received by a KSC inventor."
The Space Act Awards program was authorized under the Space Act of 1958 to provide official recognition and to grant equitable monetary awards for those inventions and other scientific and technical contributions that have helped to achieve NASA's aeronautical and space goals. The awards are also designed to stimulate and encourage the creation and reporting of similar contributions in the future.
The fiscal year 2002 award amount of $190,850 is proportionately divided among the four areas of awards, which are for software release, publication in NASA TechBriefs, Patent applications, and Board Action Awards.
Kissiah, though humbled about the recent attention, is also excited about the honor.
"This is being done almost every day in medical centers in the country. Regardless of what level of participation I had, it is nice to know I contributed to making many lives better," he said. "That is indeed special. It allows me to think I did something that helps."
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