Bay City-born neurotologist teams up with CMU to offer cochlear implants
By Mike Thompson
Restoring one of the five human senses and opening up the world of sound for patients and their families are treasured moments for Bay City native Dr. Candice Colby-Scott.
“Parents once told me how their daughter, during a car ride, heard the sound of the wind for the first time,” Colby-Scott explained.
To hear the flow of the wind – or simply to hear spoken words – is a life-changing gift, whether the patient is a 2-year-old toddler or an 80-year-old elder. Colby has treated patients of all ages with ear and skull-base issues, with a special focus on pediatric hearing loss.
Board-certified in otology, neurotology, otolaryngology and skull-base surgery, Colby-Scott performs a form of ear surgery that first emerged during the late 1970s and 1980s, known as a “cochlear implant.” A small electronic device stimulates the auditory nerve directly, rather than solely amplify sound in the manner of a traditional hearing aid. Her office is in suburban Detroit, but a good number of her patients are from the state’s northern reaches, thanks to a partnership with Central Michigan University (CMU).
The first cochlear implants were performed on adults who were hard-of-hearing or deaf, but the procedure has expanded into also reaching young children during their formative years, when the implants are the most effective.
Colby-Scott graduated in 2000 from Valley Lutheran High School in Saginaw County. As a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians, she became the first child in her family to attend college.
She completed her undergraduate studies at Ferris State University, where she aimed for a career in pharmaceutical research; however, Colby-Scott discovered she preferred to work directly with patients. Her graduation from the University of Michigan Medical School was followed by a combined seven years of residency and more specialized training.
“This meant I was into my 30s before I could practice on my own,” she said, crediting her mother, Diana Schmidt, with encouraging her strong work ethic. Colby-Scott has since married, and her two children are toddlers.
Colby-Scott performs the cochlear implants at her home base at the Michigan Ear Institute in Novi, but her link with CMU allows patients from other locations to receive pre-surgery guidance and post-surgery oversight with shorter trips to her satellite clinic in Mount Pleasant. This is enabled through a $375,000 grant from the Bloomfield Hills-based Carls Foundation and more than 200 cochlear implant patients have been served. The Carls Foundation is named for former Detroit-area industrialist William Carls, the same namesake of CMU’s Carls Center for Clinical Care and Education.
Another high point for Colby-Scott took place at the Carls Center when implants were activated on the same day for a trio of elementary-age sisters. The daughters of Levi and Sara Sturm – 9-year-old Quinn, 6-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Aoibhinn – all had been gradually losing their hearing because of a similar condition, enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome.
“CMU and Dr. Colby do things differently. They work with kids versus just this textbook cochlear testing,” said Sara Sturm, noting how the team made the entire family feel comfortable with the process.
Colby-Scott first made her CMU connection through Carissa Moeggenberg, a cochlear implant audiologist with the university’s Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions.
“Patients only have to travel here (the Detroit area) once, and that’s for the surgery,” Moeggenberg explained.
Still, families are willing to traverse longer distances for such vital medical care. The Sturms hail from Berrien Springs, Michigan, located in the state’s southwest corner and a three-hour commute from Mount Pleasant, which Sara Sturm described as “worth every minute” because she can now communicate with her children verbally instead of relying on sign language.
“They often can see their surgeon and their audiologist on the very same day,” Colby-Scott said. “And then, on the short drive back home, a previously deaf or hard-of-hearing child or adult may hear the sound of the wind blowing.”
CMU has served for decades as a pioneer in audiology. A key aspect of the cochlear implant project and the Carls Foundation grant is that post-surgery patients may benefit from the expertise of physical therapists, speech-language pathologists and various College of Medicine specialists.