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Montana hospital procedure gives some deaf patients the ability to hear

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Posted at 3:47 PM, Jun 21, 2022

BILLINGS - Blindness cuts us off from things, but deafness cuts us off from people.

That's a quote by Helen Keller and a reality that Dr. Robert Marks of Ennis lives every day.

Marks' hearing loss began in 1973 while serving in the Marine Corps when a weapon accidentally discharged near him and cut the hearing in his left ear by 60%. Twenty years later, that 60% has dropped to 15%.

His hearing overall has deteriorated as he's gotten older and after another accident, this time caused by faulty ear protection, the hearing in his right ear only functions around 25%.

"I haven't heard an Elk bugle in 25 years, unless it's right next to my tent." Marks said.

He's utilized hearing aids for years but they've become increasingly less effective and made work, socializing with friends, and everyday life difficult.

"I have not socialized with friends for years because I can't hear," said Marks.

After years of struggling to communicate efficiently a surgery that's new to the Billings Clinic — Cochlear Implant surgery — has changed Marks' life.

Dr. David Larson performed the surgery on Marks and explained that having the ability to perform this surgery in Billings will help more than just Marks.

"Patients are traveling a really long ways. They're going to Minnesota. They're going to Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle. So it's really cool to be able to provide this resource to the people of Montana in Montana," Larson said

The daily struggle forced Marks to contemplate retiring before he wanted to because communication was so difficult and as a doctor himself it was becoming too much. The surgery instantly turned his life around.

When Marks recently returned to the hospital to have the device turned on he was full of emotion.

"To be able to hear the birds and streams again will be huge. Today was like turning on the lights again. Life is back in one moment." he said.