Renowned surgeon celebrates 1000 cochlear implant surgeries


Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) celebrated a significant milestone this month when Associate Professor Catherine Birman, Medical Director of SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, performed her 1,000th cochlear implant surgery.

As a prominent Ear, Nose and Throat surgeon, A/Prof Birman knows how important technology is for children and adults experiencing moderate to profound sensorineural hearing loss.

“It is a great honour to be part of so many different people’s journeys to better hearing,” said A/Prof Birman. “Technology has come a long way since Professor Graeme Clark’s first cochlear implant recipient in 1978, with SCIC recipients receiving a cochlear implant at ages from 3 months to 95 years and hearing through the cochlear implant getting better and better.”

21 year old university student Jessica Liang from Auburn, received her second cochlear implant this month from A/Prof Birman.

Jessica was diagnosed with profound hearing loss at 12 months of age and hasn’t looked back since receiving her first cochlear implant at just 22 months.

“I cannot imagine a world without sound. My cochlear implant has allowed me to dream big, explore opportunities and connect with other people around me. Deafness is not a hindrance, but an amazing part of my identity which I have used to leverage myself to greater ambitions,” said Jessica.

Jessica was excited to receive her second cochlear implant.

“I was nervous but also excited about receiving my second cochlear implant and I’m very much looking forward to hearing sounds through my right ear and no longer having to adjust my position accordingly,” said Jessica.

Jessica recommends others struggling with their hearing to investigate the options available.

“Don’t be afraid to shout out to the world about your deafness. I know you might be struggling with your hearing, I struggled at one point but everyone has his or her own challenges. Did you know that by 2050, 1 in 4 Australians are projected to have some form of hearing loss? You’re not alone so step up to the challenge and take action to educate yourself on your hearing levels and set daily goals to manage your hearing,” said Jessica.

SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, an RIDBC service, supports clients to access a range of implantable hearing devices according to their needs. The program provides a seamless, end-to-end suite of services, from early intervention and education; through to specialist assessment; surgical liaison and support; and rehabilitation services, delivering the highest level of care and support to all ages.

A/Prof Birman was the first female ear, nose and throat surgeon in Australia to be awarded the title of Clinical Associate Professor, relating to her contribution to the field of cochlear implantation and other implantable devices.

A/Prof Catherine Birman is a specialist adult and paediatric cochlear implant surgeon, otologist, and paediatric ENT surgeon with the Department of ENT at Macquarie University Hospital.  She is a Clinical Associate Professor at Sydney University and a Conjoint Professor at Macquarie University.  As well as working at Macquarie University Hospital she holds positions at the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, RPAH, Hornsby Hospital and the Sydney Adventist Hospital.

A/Prof Birman is a Graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Head of Department at Hornsby Hospital, Medical Director of the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre, and a member of the Board of the Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.  She has been the past Chair and Vice-Chair of the NSW Australian Society of Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery, and past Secretary for the Australian New Zealand Paediatric Otolaryngology Society.

For more information about cochlear implants or SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, visit ridbc.org.au/scic or call 1300 658 981.

RIDBC is a charity and Australia’s largest non-government provider of therapy, education and cochlear implant services for people with hearing or vision loss, supporting thousands of adults, children and their families, each year.

RIDBC relies heavily on fundraising and community support to be able to continue to make a difference in people’s lives.
For media enquiries, please contact:

Melissa Henningham, RIDBC Communications Manager on 9872 0334 or 0448 919 723

Linda Berrigan, RIDBC Director Marketing & Communications on 9872 0304 or 0478 119 066


RIDBC provides much-needed support services and education Australia-wide to children and families. This support enables children, from newborns through to their late teenage years, to overcome the many challenges associated with hearing or vision loss so that they can reach their full potential.

RIDBC provides support services to adults of all ages with hearing or vision loss, providing therapy and cochlear implant services.

SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, an RIDBC service, is Australia’s largest and most comprehensive cochlear implant program, setting new benchmarks and delivering the highest level of care and support at every stage of the cochlear implant journey.

RIDBC services are conducted from seventeen permanent sites and in rural and regional areas across Australia through RIDBC Teleschool and telepractice.

RIDBC Renwick Centre conducts world-leading research and offers postgraduate courses in a range of fields relating to the development and education of children with hearing or vision loss. For more information about RIDBC, visit www.ridbc.org.au.

Innovative partnership proposed for the future of Australian Hearing


Today, a consortium comprising non-profit service provider, Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC), Macquarie University and the iconic Australian company, Cochlear Limited, confirmed that a proposal for the future governance and ownership of Australian Hearing has been put to Government.

The Consortium has proposed a unique partnership model that will honour Australian Hearing’s original intent; safeguard clients of the Community Service Obligation (CSO) program; address areas of service growth and unmet need; and ultimately provide an enhanced service and improved hearing health outcomes for all Australians.

RIDBC Chief Executive, Chris Rehn, emphasised that “the driver of the Consortium is the well-being of people with hearing loss, especially those most in need, and ensuring they continue to receive world-class services that dramatically improve their lives.”

“Preserving, protecting and extending services for all Australians – especially vulnerable CSO clients including children; the elderly; Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people; returned soldiers/veterans; and adults with complex hearing health needs – is the Consortium’s priority,” said Mr Rehn.

The Consortium approach seeks to extend upon Australia’s already world-leading hearing services, providing a total end-to-end service for people with hearing loss, including access to integrated assessment, diagnostics, hearing aids, cochlear implantation, therapy, education and additional rehabilitation and support services.

By leveraging this full-service model, and the research capabilities of the Consortium partners, the Consortium also aims to support and further develop the work of Australian Hearing’s research division, the National Acoustic Laboratories.

Mr Rehn recognised Australia’s leading role in the field of hearing health, saying that, “we have an opportunity to continue to improve services and minimise the significant health and social impacts for all Australians with hearing loss, by working together with, and building upon, the significant achievements of Australian Hearing.

“Maintaining and building Australia’s global leadership role in technical and service innovation, ground breaking research, professional education and innovation in the hearing health field, is key.”

The Consortium proposes to undertake a comprehensive due diligence process and consult with Australian Hearing, key stakeholder groups, partner organisations and Government to ensure the future of Australian Hearing stays focussed on world class hearing outcomes, not profit. In addition, the Consortium model will keep Australian Hearing in trusted Australian hands.

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For media enquiries, please contact:

Linda Berrigan, RIDBC Director Marketing & Communications on (02) 9872 0304 or 0478 119 066

Nicole Smith, RIDBC Communications Manager on (02) 9872 0792 or 0412 922 832



Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC)

RIDBC provides services to over 6,000 people across Australia, including early intervention and education programs for children with hearing and vision loss, as well as operating SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, Australia’s largest cochlear implant service for children and adults.

Macquarie University

Macquarie University is renowned for teaching and research excellence in speech and hearing sciences, cognitive science and psychology. It has a significant focus on medical and health sciences and is host to the Australian Hearing Hub, located on the University’s main campus. The Hub gives organisations and students the unique opportunity to work alongside experts in the industry providing an unrivalled learning and service delivery experience. Its focus is on enabling graduates and researchers to drive innovation and improve the lives of people with hearing and language disorders around the world.

Cochlear Limited

Cochlear Limited is the world’s leading producer of cochlear implants and an icon of innovation in Australian advanced manufacturing. Today Cochlear supplies hearing devices and products in more than 100 countries. Cochlear’s commitment to world leading technology includes research and development, links with the service industry and strong leadership within the Australian Hearing Hub at Macquarie University. In 2014/15 Cochlear invested $128million (13% of revenue) in research and development.

More awareness needed on cochlear implant benefit for seniors



Age is not a barrier to having a cochlear implant fitted to treat hearing loss but only 8 per cent of adults who would benefit from an implant have one, a gerontology conference has heard.

While cochlear implants are well-known for providing hearing in children who are born deaf, the technology is increasingly being used to restore hearing in adults with acquired deafness, Associate Professor Catherine Birman told last week’s Australian Association of Gerontology conference.

Dr Catherine Birman

Dr Birman, who is medical director of the Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre (SCIC), said surgery was well-tolerated and speech outcomes were impressive in those aged over 70, many of whom were also successfully participating in follow up rehabilitation via telehealth.

However, more awareness was needed among this cohort on the benefits, which include reduced isolation, depression and progression of dementia, she said.

People who have hearing loss do not interact with those around them, including their GPs and carers in residential and community care, Dr Birman told Technology Review following her presentation.

Here, Dr Birman tells Natasha Egan about the suitability of cochlear implants for the elderly and how aged care service providers can help determine if their clients might benefit from one:Link 


Shirley celebrates 30 years with a cochlear implant!

15. Shirley

Shirley, who is 88 years old, is celebrating the 30th anniversary of her cochlear implant in 2015.

Shirley lost her hearing suddenly after her 11th birthday. Years later she received an implant through the program now known as SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, an RIDBC service.

“This anniversary is one of the biggest milestones in my life,” said Shirley. “When I lost my hearing there was very little information or support available. No one explained my tinnitus – it was just called ‘head noises’. I am quite sure my parents had no idea what I was going through.

“Six months after I lost my hearing, I began receiving lip reading lessons and speech therapy from RIDBC. Without this support I would have been lost – it allowed me to communicate.”

In 1985, at a stage when cochlear implantation was still in its infancy, Professor William (Bill) Gibson was her surgeon when Shirley became just the third person in NSW to receive a cochlear implant.

“When I lost my hearing there was little technology to assist the deaf,” said Shirley.  “When articles started appearing in the media about experiments in cochlear implants I grew impatient with my deafness – I wanted to hear! That’s when I found out that I was a candidate for a cochlear implant.”

“I can’t put into words what it was like to hear sound after 47 years. After such a long period of deafness my brain didn’t immediately recognise speech, but soon after lip reading became easier and I could understand people I had previously put in the ‘too hard’ basket!

“Receiving the implant through SCIC Cochlear Implant Program has been fantastic – the staff are so supportive. I still attend the centre twice yearly for programming and they are always on stand-by to help.”

Shirley is positive about the benefits of cochlear implant technology for people of all ages.

It’s amazing meeting recent recipients of a cochlear implant. Some are in their nineties and again able to enjoy their lifestyle rather than be cut off from family and friends.  They usually understand speech immediately after their implant is ‘switched on’. Babies with an implant can grow up with normal hearing!”

At 88 years of age, Shirley remains an active member of her community.

“I spend a lot of time in my garden, I enjoy photography and I attend classes at the Little Bay Community Centre,” said Shirley. “Also, I have a wicked sense of humour, which is important if one is deaf!”

SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, an RIDBC service, supports clients to access a range of implantable hearing devices according to their needs. Adults and children with hearing loss get the best results when cochlear implant services are combined with early intervention, specialist education or therapy programs.

For more information about cochlear implants or SCIC Cochlear Implant Program, visit ridbc.org.au/scic or call 1300 658 981.

RIDBC is Australia’s largest non-government provider of therapy, education, cochlear implant and diagnostic services for people with hearing or vision loss, supporting thousands of adults, children and their families, each year. Services are provided from 17 sites across Australia and through an outreach service that supports clients living in regional areas.

William’s Best Gift

 Ang & Will

The 15 June 2012 was one of the happiest days of my life

William’s birth filled me with instantaneous love. Truth is I wasn’t expecting such an immediate connection, partly due to the facts that Will was our unexpected surprise and that my life was already full on. Just four weeks before his birth my oldest son had been diagnosed with Aspergers added to this was the fact that I was just entering my second year of a university degree to become a primary school teacher -my childhood dream job.

The day after his birth Will failed his SWISH test. My step mother Jan and dad were visiting during this time so were present at this test. I remember Jan just bursting into tears when he failed and I was comforting her saying don’t worry its probably fluid he will pass tomorrow

The 17 June 2012 was the day that “my on cloud nine happy bubble” burst into bits. Will failed his second SWISH test and then I knew he really was deaf, I had felt it in my gut.

A month later my instinct was confirmed at his testing. My husband prayed so hard before this day and said he would run up the street naked if William passed the ABS tests. We were told that day that William had a bilateral profound hearing loss.

I just lost it. I cried, my husband Brent cried, we cried for everything Will looked like he would never experience.

  • How will we talk to him?
  • How will I tell him I love him?
  • How will he listen to music or even go to the movies?

All of a sudden I asked the testing audiologist Katie “can he get a cochlear implant?”

In October 2012 I met with A/Professor Catherine Birman, SCIC Cochlear Implant Program’s medical Director, at Gladesville, where she arranged for Will to have an MRI that confirmed that he was indeed a cochlear implant candidate.

All this time Will had relied on hearing aids for nerve stimulation and he had no access to speech sounds. He received his cochlear implants when he was only five and a half months old a Children’s Hospital Westmead.

I stayed with him until the anesthetic set in and my little boy was asleep. After about three and a half hours my beeper went off and Dr Birman came out to see me. I will never forget that moment she told me she had successfully implanted Will bilaterally and that test indicated that surgery was a complete success.

‘You are my families hero’ was my heartfelt response. Dr Birman is our family’s champion who gave our son sound.

On 4 December 2012 our amazing and very patient audiologist Samantha at the Gosford centre, made my wish come true. With the first beep, as she switched William’s implants on, my boy responded. Moments later I was finally able to tell my son in words that I loved him.

A year has past, wow what a year!

Our first word: mum

We were shopping and dad was pushing Will along in the trolley when Will held out his arms to me and said ‘mum’. 100 phone calls, tears and face book status up-dates all round

This year has been full of appointments but we are lucky the post operative services that the SCIC Cochlear Implant Program provided us such as mapping, and auditory therapy through the centre at Gosford, reassure us that William will be OK.

That said our auditory therapist Sarah is awesome. She knows how to inspire and motivate me. It’s a lot of pressure for a parent to create just the right learning opportunities for children with cochlear implant. I have learnt this year even though it’s a labour of love a lot of patience and practice is required.

So I’ll end by saying that this year we have had some amazing ups and downs. The downs are becoming fewer and far between. Who would have thought the sound ‘b’ would bring me to tears, but when Will did it after weeks of input, I did!

Our journey to sound has brought some wonderful people into our lives. The team at Gosford have become more to me than just professionals who help me and teach William, they have also become my friends.

William’s hearing loss is something I will never get over but with time and support of friends both new and old, as well as family, I’m happy to say William’s last tests revealed his receptive language is rated as 73. This is amazing as it puts him in the mid-range of a normal hearing child his age.

So, what a year we have had: I’m entering my fourth year of University, my oldest son completed kindergarten and William is learning to talk.

Angel GBel-Cook

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Time to Hand on the Batton at SCIC

92.  PIA phone directory 1992 (1 of 1)

Celebrating the start of the Children’s program at SCIC



With over 2,000 surgeries, Prof. Bill Gibson is considered a world leader in the field of cochlear implants.


Monday, 25 August 2014 marked the end of an era for SCIC – Sydney Cochlear Implant Centre, when Professor William (Bill) Gibson AM announced that he was stepping down as Director and that Associate Professor Catherine Birman would take up the position of Medical Director of the newly merged SCIC, Cochlear Implant Program, an RIDBC service.

Professor Gibson affectionately known by everyone as “Prof” made his pronouncement at the official launch of the new service was attended by The Hon Jillian Skinner, NSW Minister for Health. The merger of SCIC and RIDBC will form Australia’s largest cochlear implant program.

Prof had commenced what is now SCIC, in 1984 with the vision of helping all children and adults for whom hearing aids were not providing access to sound. Under his stewardship and guidance SCIC, has grown from one small centre performing eight surgeries in 1984/85 to a network of eight regional centres that have provided cochlear implant surgeries for 396 people in 2013/14. SCIC now offers cochlear implant and related services for over 4000 clients.

During the launch the Minister also announced funding for an additional 22 cochlear implants, including 12 for adults at Westmead Hospital.

Considered the pre-eminent cochlear implant surgeon in the world, Prof has contributed enormously to the development and acceptance of cochlear implants as the expected form of intervention for deaf children and adults.

During his 30 years with SCIC he has done over 2,000 individual surgeries and in 1995 he became a member of the Order of Australia in recognition of his contribution to the deaf and hearing impaired.

Whilst “Prof” has officially announced his retirement he intends to continue on with his research studies, particularly relating to Meniere’s disease and will also continue to provide guidance and counsel for SCIC.Narenburn frontNarenburn front

In between spending time with his family and on his many interests including his boat, which for some strange reason is called “Mad Wax”, we look forward to having him still be very much a part of SCIC. Enjoy your extra leisure time Prof, you certainly deserve it!

Tim & Natalie’s journey to the hearing world

14. Tim & Natalie

Tim & Natalie Nobes

Husband & wife Tim and Natalie Nobes receive cochlear implants on same day at Westmead Private Hospital by SCIC surgeon Assoc. Professor Melville da Cruz. Read more

Leading up to this they had been assessed as being suitable for a cochlear implants after joining the program at SCIC Penrith.

Natalie was ‘switched-on” at Penrith, while Tim had his ‘switch-on” by audiologist Carol Amos filmed live in the studio of Channel 7 for their Sunday Night program.

You can watch the video of Tim and Natalie’s exciting week here

“How Loud is Too Loud?”


On 22 August  St Mary’s Primary School Warners Bay took place a in a “Loud Hair” Day event within the framework of Hearing Awareness Week.

The event was organised by Maree McTaggart, Audiologist from SCIC  Newcastle, Melanie Dowling from State Wide Infant Screening for Hearing Program (SWISH) at John Hunter Hospital and Kate Wills, Paediatric Audiologist from Australian Hearing.

The HAW Theme for 2013 is “How loud is too loud?”. Parents, teachers, St Dominic’s infant students, St. Mary’s Year 6, and some high school students from San Clemente also participated in the event. The children were allowed to come to school with coloured hair, bright ribbons or crazy wigs in line with the event theme of “Loud Hair” Day in exchange of a donation.

Maree and Melanie explained about hearing protection C-A-T strategy: Cover your ears, Avoid the noise and/or Turn it down. Students watched a movie produced by Australian Hearing called, “Damage your hearing and it won’t come back!” about how to take care of hearing by using hearing protection and avoiding loud places.

St Dominic’s infant students performed two signing songs using Auslan ─ Australian Sign Language. Communication tactics to employ when talking to someone with a hearing impairment were discussed as well.

Maree also gave the participants the first lesson of the AUSLAN signing alphabet, including some basic signs and greetings. St. Mary’s Year 6 students could ask their questions to High School students according to their experience in school and how the other classmates help them during lessons.

Kate presented Australian Hearing information, and Melanie gave information about SWISH Program, and diagnostic testing for the babies that do not pass their hearing screen. After that Emma, a student of Primary Education at University of Newcastle discussed Teaching Strategies for students with a hearing loss. Emma wears bilateral hearing aids and is in her final year of teacher training.

Money raised from the event was shared between the charity, SCIC  and the Audiology Department at John Hunter Children’s Hospital Newcastle.

Why Do People Stop Using Their Cochlear Implants?

Each week in Australia, 1500 new cases of dementia are diagnosed. A recent study by SCIC into why 2.86% of SCIC’s recipients  stop using their cochlear implant  found that  of the 86 “non user’s” of cochlear implants have 20% have dementia.  A “non user” of a cochlear implant is a person who has a functioning device that they no longer use.  SCIC will be researching this topic further to ensure that non use is prevented wherever possible. Our first priority is to optimise the opportunities for recipients who develop dementia to continue use of their cochlear implants by ensuring the appropriate support mechanisms and networks are in place. Further, we plan to research the value of screening tools to help us monitor recipient’s abilities to manage their cochlear implant s independently. Our SCIC research team is developing protocols in collaboration with other major CI centres throughout Australia.

A further area that we will be researching is the reasons people feel they may not be obtaining adequate benefit from their cochlear implants. A survey and interview procedure will be undertaken in 2013 to further determine what mechanisms may assist people in developing more consistent use patterns of their cochlear implants.

Whilst the non-users of cochlear implants are a very small proportion of the population that we care for, our research and resulting clinical practises will aim to minimise this even further.


Figure 1: The profile of non users of cochlear implants . The green bar is the age that the recipients received their cochlear implant, blue bar how long they used their cochlear implant and pink bar the duration they have not been using their cochlear implants. The red arrows show those implanted under the age of 10 and those  over the age of 70.

 Population of non users at SCIC


Figure 2: reasons people stop using their cochlear implants. Over half of those who stopped using their cochlear implant felt they were getting no benefit, whilst a further 20% developed dementia.