Professor Laura Viani, a neurotological surgeon whose National Hearing Implant and Research Centre (NHIRC) was awarded the Cpl World-Class Talent award for her pioneering work in the field of cochlear implants on the 19th September at an event in The Cliff Townhouse.
Prof Viani, a fellow of RCSI and a member of the RCSI Council, opened Ireland's first cochlear implant clinic in Dublin in 1994 and completed the country's first cochlear implant surgery in March 1995. She remained Ireland's only cochlear implant surgeon until 2009.
Over the last 25 years, Prof Viani built up a small RCSI-based clinic of two into a team of 30 medical specialists and clinical support experts spread across multiple Irish hospitals, whose knowledge and skills put Ireland's cochlear implant programme on par with the UK and other major international countries.
Prof Viani's award is part of the Cpl World-Class Talent Series, which recognises outstanding global leaders who have made meaningful contributions to our economy and society.
What is a cochlear implant and how does it impact patients?
The cochlea is the snail-shaped part of the inner ear that 'hears' sound waves and transmits them as electrical signals to the brain. In people born deaf, or those who have lost their hearing later in life, the cochlea either functions very poorly or does not function at all.
A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted device that provides the patient with a sense of sound by directly stimulating the auditory nerve to the brain.
Before cochlear implant surgery was made available in Ireland by Prof Viani and her team, over 90% of children born with profound hearing loss did not learn to use oral speech and most of them did not have the opportunity to attend mainstream school. Young professionals with profound hearing loss struggled with employment, and older people with profound hearing loss were left in isolation.
Cochlear implant surgery, however, has allowed many of these people to fully integrate into society, participate in school with hearing children, excel at work, and maintain independence well into old age.
Prof Viani's success and inspiration
Over the last 25 years, Prof Viani and her team have raised hundreds of thousands of euros for cochlear implant surgery in Ireland and have lobbied the Government for improved public access to the treatment. Today, Prof Viana and her team carry out 200 cochlear implants a year at Beaumont Hospital.
Looking back on her career so far, Prof Viani said she felt there was an 'obligation' to pursue cochlear implant surgery in Ireland. She credits a robust, professional team and leadership skills for much of the success of the NHIRC.
'Teamwork is everything,' said Prof Viani. 'You've got to have empathy, and you need to want other people to succeed. Keep an open door and have respect for other people. As a leader, you need to have a goal and a plan for how to get there.'
Today, her inspiration remains the patients themselves: 'It really is inspiring to see the kids doing so well, particularly when you hear that they're speaking so well and have acquired local accents. You see them forever; a cochlear implant is part of a lifelong journey. Just recently, a patient I treated as a child, who received a cochlear implant, wrote to me to say that they had achieved a first-class degree in medicine at UCC.'
Learn more about Professor Viani and her work in the short video below.