Ian Michael Smith, in an interview the day after his implant was
(photo by Roger Ebert)
"It’s about customizing your body..."
/ / / August 18, 2007
by Roger Ebert
He is one of the smartest people you’d want to meet, cool, calm, funny. He gets around by himself in a motorized wheelchair. When he flies to Boston, his parents wave goodbye at O’Hare security. At MIT, he doesn’t have a care-giver. Just turns up on his own.When Ian was three, he was diagnosed with Morquito's syndrome, a form of dwarfism which limits his height but not his life span. A side effect of the syndrome is increasing deafness. On Aug. 8, he had his new cochlear implant activated by Dr. Stephanie Yaras at the Children’s Memorial Hospital Westchester clinic. The implant was surgically inserted into his brain three weeks earlier by Dr. Nancy Young at Children's main hospital in Lincoln Park.
<--Dr. Stephanie Yaras fits Ian Michael Smith with external circuitry for his cochlear implant at Children’s Memorial Hospital’s Westchester(photo by Rich
Hein for the Sun-Times)
How did this go over at MIT? “The professors were fascinated. Here was this cool new device in their classroom, this CART. I think maybe they were a little disappointed to learn it’s just a dictionary, not speech recognition or artificial intelligence. And now comes the implant, and this is MIT, where we love Star Trek, we love sci fi--this is the geeky dream, right?” What’s amazing, he said, is how much the human brain can do with so little: “The brain is fantastic at finding patterns with very little actual information. When you talk to people who lost their hearing later in life, they’ll tell you almost to a person that when they lip read, they hear. With an implant, the brain is reconstructing tens of thousands of nerves-worth of signals from maybe only 20 or so inputs, and yet by the time the patient adjusts, it sounds in most cases very natural.”
“It’s worked out,” Ian said. “I can’t say I haven’t gotten stuck in the snow but I’m still alive.”Gayle said, “He’s very active in improving the accessibility around campus and around Cambridge.” “And outside of Cambridge, in Boston,” Ian said. We spoke about our mutual friend Marca Bristo of Chicago, founder of the disability rights group Access Living, who will have her face on a postage stamp one of these days.