Lowcountry veteran using straw to hear inspires creation of innovative device at Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center


NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – A straw helped spark creativity for biomedical engineers at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Center. The science that it’s helping uncover could be life changing for veterans with hearing loss across the nation.

Veteran Michael Nicoletti has a rare condition that caused his ear canal to collapse and his solution was a straw.

“I stuck them in my ears and then I went in and I said alright turn the TV down,” says Veteran Michael Nicoletti.

His idea laid the groundwork for engineers at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Medical Center.

They used a 3-D printer to create an ear stint that does not need to be surgically implanted and can be easily removed by the wearer.

“It took numerous prototypes to figure out what would actually work for the patient. What material was good, shape and design we needed to use for this to be perfect for him,” says Nikki Beitennan, Supervisor and Biomedical Engineer at Ralph Johnson VA Center.

It recently received “Compassionate Use Approval” from the U.S. FDA, giving Nicoletti the green light.

The engineers say the stint could be a game changer. It takes only 45 minutes to print and materials to create it cost 64 cents.

“We can make things faster than we can order them and also way more cost effective then what we would spend on a commercial vendor,” Beitennan says.

Nicoletti wont be the only veteran helped. A clinical trial protocol for this stint is awaiting approval.

“Numerous VA’s are going to be involved in it so patients across the entire country will be able to get help from this and be apart of the trial if they want to,” says Beitennan.

This opportunity to help veterans across the nation is why Beitenann says she does her job.

“Being able to be innovative and creative is the reason I love doing my job. Helping VA’s across the nation that will be able to get this treatment anywhere else is rewarding,” she says.

Engineers say clinical trials for this ear stint will begin this summer and if approved the technology will help thousands of veterans.

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