Sevier leads development of cochlear implant services at Barkley Clinic
A year ago, Josh Sevier was in the beginning stages of establishing the Cochlear Implant Program at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic.
His vision for a team approach to providing cochlear implant services has now come to fruition, with eight cochlear implant activations completed and five more individuals in process to have surgery.
Sevier, assistant professor of practice in the Department of Special Education and Communication Disorders, is one of the few audiologists in the state who specializes in cochlear implants. His program is the first Nebraska clinic specializing in cochlear implant services to be located outside the Omaha metro area.
He currently works with surgeons in Omaha to conduct the implant surgeries. All other treatment and services are offered at the Barkley Clinic on East Campus.
“One thing that stands out about our program is most places have a surgeon running the cochlear implant program,” Sevier said. “Here, we do everything except the surgery in-house. We have an entire team rotating through to manage the care for these individuals. It’s pretty special. The people on the implant team basically go through the journey with them together. We have to rely on each other to make sure we’re all going about things the same way and have a plan in place so the people we’re helping get the best outcomes possible.”
The other members of Nebraska’s cochlear implant team include: Katie Brennan, lecturer and speech-language pathologist, who provides aural rehabilitation; Anne Thomas, assistant professor of practice and coordinator of Nebraska’s deaf education program, who works with patients and families on the use of American Sign Language; and Amanda Rodriguez, assistant professor and vestibular audiologist, who evaluates patients’ balance functions.
Sevier completed the first cochlear implant activation at the Barkley Memorial Center in November 2018. Since then, he and his team have seen patients from the Lincoln and Omaha area, and as far west as Kearney in Nebraska. One patient came from South Dakota and another recently flew in from Virginia.
If the next phase of Sevier’s plan succeeds, the program will extend its reaches to the far western part of the state as well. Sevier’s goal is to eventually offer cochlear implant services and follow-up care via telepractice so individuals from western Nebraska have an option to receive services closer to home.
“If we can find some kind of cost-effective way to make things better for people in western Nebraska, we’re definitely going to try to do that.”
While he works with others in the department to develop and implement the telepractice option, Sevier will continue to serve as many cochlear implant patients as possible at the Barkley Clinic. And with each new story and experience, he will tell you he has the coolest job in the world.
To understand Sevier’s passion for his work, one must backtrack to 2008. Having recently completed four years of service as a combat medic in the military, he was starting college with the plan of becoming a trauma surgeon. A fraternity trip to a national leadership conference altered that course and steered him toward audiology.
“There was a chapter from a school (Gallaudet University) that was completely deaf,” Sevier said. “It was the first time I’d ever met a deaf person in my entire life. I tried to communicate with them, and got really frustrated that I couldn’t.”
Sevier became friends with the students from Gallaudet and they started teaching him sign language. After the conference, he and one of the Gallaudet students had Skype sessions once a week so he could keep learning. Eventually, his new friend decided Sevier was ready to visit the campus in Washington, D.C.
“I spent a week there. It was one of the most overwhelming things I have done, but I loved it. I was about six months from graduating my undergrad, and I still wanted to do something in healthcare, but I knew I wanted to do something with the deaf. I’d never heard of audiology before that.”
After some research, he visited Vanderbilt University, just 15 minutes from his parents’ home. He toured the audiology program and learned more about the profession. Afterward, he knew he’d found his path.
Sevier also knew from day one he wanted to work with cochlear implants, and that passion has continued to grow over the last decade thanks to the reactions he witnesses with each new patient. He is quick to admit he still cries with nearly every patient’s activation.
“Seeing how well our patients are doing when they come to us, and knowing that we’re doing what we’re supposed to is really rewarding,” Sevier said. “Once we see how much better they’re doing, it gets to me. I thought after the fourth or fifth activation I ever did in my career that this stuff would get old to me. I’ve probably done more than 200 activations now, and I still cry like a baby all the time.”