Audiologist Myles Kessler: Fulfilled By Helping People Like
Heeding the Call: The Road to Audiology
"How does this sound to you now?" Dr. Myles Kessler,
a Connecticut audiologist, keeps equal focus on his patient,
72-year-old Elio Betty, and the computer equipment before him.
Kessler has met with Betty dozens of times over the past six
years. Together, the two men work to carry out the intricate
ballet of fine-tuning and maximizing the surgically planted
equipment in Betty's ear-equipment that allowed him to hear
again after 15 years of frustrating, isolating silence.
Betty, a cochlear implant recipient, applies the same drive,
energy and single-minded focus to his recovery as he did to his
career as a powerful television executive. In Kessler he finds a
staunch ally-an engaging, highly skilled professional with the
uncanny ability to understand precisely how to advance his
In repeated audiology sessions with Betty, Kessler must apply
a combination of keen medical insight, communication savvy and
technical artistry. "Every one of my patients is
different-like a unique puzzle," says Kessler. "It is
incredibly gratifying to figure out what each needs to hear and
communicate. It's a life-changing process for them."
Kessler is particularly happy about his role in the story of
Like many of today's talented audiologists and
speech-language pathologists, Myles Kessler had a somewhat
serendipitous introduction to the profession. As an undergraduate
student majoring in physical therapy, all he knew for certain was
that he wanted to work in the health field, and he wanted to help
His college, University at Buffalo, The State University of
New York, offered undergraduate courses in audiology. Intrigued,
Kessler signed up-and was hooked. "I sort of stumbled into
audiology," Kessler remembers. "But everything about it
just made sense to me."
He credits his professors, particularly department chair Dr.
Jack Katz, for sparking his interest. "I have always had the
good fortune of getting dynamic teachers who have influenced and
supported me in my profession," Kessler says. "Jack
Katz was very inspiring."
After graduation, Kessler went on to receive a master's
degree in audiology from the University of Cincinnati and a
doctorate in clinical audiology from the Arizona School of Health
When Kessler moved to Connecticut, he did a clinical
fellowship year working for the Veterans Health Administration
with Jacyln Spitzer, Ph.D. In his research, he collected data on
the original, single channel cochlear implants. The research
funding for this project expanded, and Kessler remained at the VA
for the next 12 years.
"I helped conduct a big study, involving seven different
VA health centers, which compared three or four different
multi-channel implants," Kessler says. Those years at the VA
armed Kessler with the latest intelligence on cochlear
With the onset and rapid advancement of this technology,
Kessler recognized how lives could and would be changed. When he
left the VA for his private practice, he knew the exciting
potential for his work to help restore the hearing capacity of
even the severely deaf-people just like Elio Betty.
A Seismic Shock-and the Aftermath
In his early 50s, Elio Betty was at the height of his
professional success. For years, he was vice president of sales
at ABC TV in New York before moving on to a position as senior
vice president at a prominent financial cable network, now known
But one September night in 1987, everything changed. He woke
up severely deaf-and the world would never be the same. "I
had lost the hearing in my left ear due to a viral infection more
than 20 years before," Betty says. "But I got along
just fine without it. This time, I woke up and discovered that my
hearing was gone from my right ear as well. It fluctuated a bit
for a few days, but then it settled. I was essentially
Betty lost his ability to discriminate sounds.
"Regardless how loud the sound was," he says, "my
ears couldn't make sense of the words." Unable to talk
on the phone and with little ability to communicate in person,
corporate life became untenable. Betty was forced to leave his
high-powered job at the network. He attempted to go into business
for himself for a few years, but this, too, proved too difficult
for him to manage with his deafness.
His daughter Lisa Cline remembers that difficult time. "A
lot of my father's identity was really tied to his
career," she says. "When this happened, he was in his
prime, really hitting his stride professionally. Even with the
highest-powered hearing aids, he still could not discern words. I
could watch his facial expressions and see how hard he was
trying. It was a lot of work to try to hear-it forced him into
And it wasn't just his career that suffered. "Dad
lost his strength of character. He was unable to participate in
our lives as he once had," Cline says. "He seemed left
out, maybe a little depressed. He had to give up things he loved,
like watching movies and listening to the radio. He once played
piano beautifully but could no longer play, so he sold it. This
pattern continued for 15 years."
The Technological Breakthrough
Elio gets his
processor turned on or the first time with his youngest
daughter, Alison, at his side.
Throughout his ordeal, Betty worked with a hearing team led by
Dr. Simon Parisier, a prominent otolaryngologist in New York and
pioneer in the development of cochlear implants for those with
profound deafness. Frustrated at how little his hearing aids
helped him, Betty appealed to Parisier-who informed him he'd
be a good candidate for a cochlear implant.
Small, complex electronic devices, cochlear implants are a
fairly new technology that helps provide a sense of sound to the
deaf person. Surgically placed under the skin behind the ear, the
device functions much like a healthy inner ear would,
electronically finding useful sounds and sending those signals to
the brain. Though cochlear implants do not create normal hearing,
they do allow many people to orally communicate in person and
over the phone.
In August 2002, Betty had cochlear implant surgery. Just over
a month later, his cochlear processor was hooked up in a
programming process called MAPing, which is conducted by an
audiologist. "After my initial MAPing, my hearing improved
by 75 percent," Betty recalls. "It was incredibly
emotional to have the processor turned on. I remember on the
drive back from that appointment, my daughter Alison was speaking
in the back seat of the car. For the first time in 15 years, I
could actually hear her. It was amazing."
"Once he turned his processor on, we could see him
returning to us," recalls daughter Lisa. "The stress
lines disappeared from his face. It was almost as though he had
disappeared for all those years, but he came back as the lovable,
funny, feeling person whom he had always been."
The Hard Work of Hearing: Betty Turns to Kessler
Adjusting to the new sound provided by a cochlear implant can
take months-and the process can become frustrating. In 2003,
Betty made an appointment with Myles Kessler, the director of
audiology at a large practice in New Haven, Connecticut.
"Initially I began working with Myles because his office was
far more convenient for me," Betty says. "But I was
immediately struck by his deep level of knowledge and how
accommodating and understanding he was as we worked
"Elio came into my care after he had been implanted by a
New York surgeon," recalls Kessler. "Sounds were still
not right for him. He had complaints about quality. We worked on
MAPing and making the right adjustments to the processor.
Typically, a lot of hard work starts after the implant."
Elio with his
According to Kessler, the audiologist's role in the
patient's recovery goes beyond the technical. "Sometimes
we function as counselors, even therapists. How we prepare our
patients for what to expect is a big part of the job."
Kessler recognized Betty's tremendous drive and focus on
learning to communicate well again. "Elio had gotten to a
point where he was a successful, strong guy," Kessler says.
"When he lost his hearing, he saw it as losing control of
his career-and his life. After so many years as a great
communicator, he didn't want people talking for him. He
needed to do that on his own."
In multiple visits over many months, Kessler carried out
further adjustments to maximize Betty's hearing. In 2005,
under Kessler's guidance, Betty replaced his original
implant, the Nucleus 24, with the more technologically advanced
"It has four different computer programs. One feature is
a noise cancelling system, so in places like crowded loud
restaurants I can program it to cancel out the background
noise," said Betty.
"No matter what issue I was having, Myles could fix
anything," Betty says. "The work he did with the
Cochlear Freedom was complicated-because of the variability of
all the different programs, the decibels, the noise canceling
feature. There were so many applications. I met with him about 10
times before we got to a comfortable level."
"A large part of why people do well with their cochlear
implants and their therapy is because they work hard and they
to do well," Kessler says. "Is every patient a success
and a superstar like Elio Betty? No. Implant success is
predicated on many things, not the least of which is how hard the
patient is willing to work. But are people better than where they
started? Yes. A vast majority are happy with the hearing progress
Betty describes his relationship with Kessler as friendly and
professional. "Not only is he an easy person to talk to, but
he is highly interested in how I am doing and how my programs are
working. I can call him 24/7. He does an excellent job of
managing the question and answer sessions in order to understand
what I need. And he keeps me abreast of the latest technology
Back in the Hearing World: An Advocate Emerges
With his other
half, wife Judith.
Six years out from his implant surgery, Elio Betty is
thriving. He does not consider himself hearing-impaired and can
even hold lengthy conversations on the telephone. He is relishing
his retirement years, filled with boating, golf and time with
"Basically, he has overcome his disability," says
daughter Lisa. "I think he's forgotten he has one.
It's incredible what he has accomplished. As a daughter, you
always take for granted that your dad will manage things well.
But I know how much work this took. I am proud of him-he's
really an unsung hero."
Betty advocates on issues related to hearing loss and is
particularly active in pushing for open captioning at movie
theaters. The booming sound systems at modern movie theaters make
it hard for the hearing-impaired to attend a film that does not
have open captioning. "Nowadays, with these huge theaters
with 16 or18 screens, surely there is no reason why at least one
could not have open captioning," Betty says.
For Myles Kessler, Betty's is yet another patient success
story-one of many-that he can take pride in. "I mean it when
I say I absolutely love coming to work in the morning,"
Kessler says. "My job is gratifying. It's fulfilling.
It's a wonderful feeling to make such a difference and to
hear how much you are appreciated. I get to help people like Elio
Betty each and every day."