Can You Hear Me Now?

Kathryn Kranen's gutsy move ...

by Peggy Aycinena


Jasper Design CEO Kathryn Kranen is deaf is one ear. She wasn't born that way – her family believes a severe case of chicken pox as an infant caused permanent damage to the auditory nerve in her right ear and she's been totally deaf on that side ever since.

Other than this one small affliction, Kathryn is one of the healthiest people you'll ever meet. She's trim, athletic, engaged in life and absolutely unstoppable. She's running a business, has a young family, and is simultaneously involved in various volunteer activities in her community. To meet her, you wouldn't know she's not just perfect in every way.


Kranen Family


So you'll have to take my word for it – Kathryn Kranen is deaf in one ear. She can't hear you if you're sitting on her right side. When it's her young children demanding her attention it usually goes like this:

"Mommy! Mommy! Is this your deaf ear or are you just not listening to me?"

Some while back, Kathryn learned from a friend of a friend about a new device being used in the medical community that was designed to help people who are deaf in one ear. Simply stated, this device consists of a titanium post surgically embedded in the skull near the deaf ear onto which a small electronic "gadget" is snapped. Post and "gadget" combined are referred to by the manufacturer as a BAHA – a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid.

[Technically, the BAHA was originally designed for people who are missing an ear canal, so that sound can be transferred through the skull to the auditory nerve inside on the same side as the BAHA. In the case of single-sided deaf people, however, the sound has to travel all the way around/over the head to the nerve on the opposite side.]

Anyway, the gadget part of the BAHA includes a directional microphone, a DSP and transducer that takes ambient sound and translates it into a mechanical vibration which travels through the titanium post, and then through the skull and over to the good ear.

The vibration stimulates an auditory response in the good ear, which leaves the human sporting the device with the impression that both ears are functional – complete with the ability to localize sound and discern activity on the previously stone-deaf side of the head.

The titanium post, once implanted, takes 10 weeks to fuse with the bone of the skull – a process called osseo-integration. The gadget, which snaps onto the post, is about one inch square, and cannot be tested out until the post is fully fused, lest the healing and fusing process be compromised.

The post-and-gadget combo is essentially invisible, hiding under the hair a couple of inches back from where the non-functioning ear is located. The whole set-up is currently being developed and manufactured by a company out of Sweden – Entific Medical Systems, now owned by Cochlear Ltd. of Australia – and costs about $5000 (not including the surgery).

Not surprisingly – particularly to those of you familiar with hearing aids – the cost of the device is not currently covered by most medical insurance. In general, if you're deaf on one or both sides and for whatever reason, your insurance company is not interested. Kathryn was fortunate that Jasper’s insurance plan covered the surgery, but she will have to purchase the device.

Okay, so back to Kathryn.

She heard about the BAHA device – researched it, talked to her doctors, investigated the pros and cons, consulted with her husband, Kevin Kranen (Marketing Director at Synopsys), her kids, her parents, her business associates, checked with her insurance – and decided to try it.

On July 21st, Kathryn was operated on. She had the titanium post installed in her skull and then began the long healing process, along with the long wait to see if her hearing could be restored to a level she has not known since she was a tiny child. On October 4th, the gadget will be attached to the post.

Kathryn believes that life as she has known up to that point will change instantly.


When Kathryn was growing up, it was of particular concern to her parents that she never be treated like an invalid – and that she herself never felt disadvantaged. Kathryn went through normal schooling, and never felt different from other children. Her parents made the difficult decision not to inform her teachers.

Her education (BSEE from Texas A&M) and subsequent career – previously CEO of Verisity Design, Inc. (U.S. headquarters of Verisity Ltd.) and now CEO of Jasper Design – are a reflection of her hard work, her intelligence, and her parents' determination that her outlook be one of total optimism – a "see-no-obstacles" kind of worldview.

Now that Kathryn has a titanium post embedded in her skull – no, you can't see it unless she parts her hair to show you – something unexpected has happened. Kathryn says she's now starting to think of herself as "different" for the first time in her life; she's starting to feel as if she has a handicap.

She's more aware than she has ever been before that her world is a one-sided one. She notices daily all the situations in which she accommodates her single-sided deafness, by crossing to the right while walking with someone, or strategically seating herself on the right end of a table, or asking people to please repeat things. She's impatient with the status quo and simply cannot wait to get the gadget in her hands, to attach it to the post, and to experience the mind-bending phenomenon of being able to hear everything that's going on all around her.

Per Kathryn, "Now I feel disadvantaged – for the first time in my life! Now I realize how different everything has been for me all these years!"

Hence, Kathryn's quite sure that the reason people in her circumstances are not allowed access to the gadget part of the BAHA even a day sooner than 10 weeks after surgery is because everybody starts to get wildly impatient. A condition that has been an integral part of their lives – single-sided deafness – suddenly has become a single-sided annoyance and source of frustration and even anger.

She knows that if she had the gadget – she would already have tried it on, no matter that it might dislodge the post or otherwise disrupt the delicate fusing of titanium to bone.

So she waits. She works hard. She keeps her usual long hours at the helm of Jasper. She tends to her family. She tracks the healing of the small surgical site. If people ask, she explains the surgery, the process, and the device.

And she waits some more.

She knows she may be disappointed. The results may not be all they're cracked up to be. Her enhanced hearing may not help – it may in fact be distracting, or different, or too loud, or too soft, or too disorienting.

And she waits some more.

Meanwhile, she proselytizes:

"Do you know someone who's enduring single-sided deafness? Have they ever heard of the Bone Anchored Hearing Aid? Would they like to talk to my doctor? Would they like to talk to me? Would they like the link to the website of the manufacturer? Did you know the implanting process didn't require general anaethestic or prophylactic antibiotics? Do you want to see the post? See how it's not obvious at all? See this card? It's to show to the security guys at the airport to tell them why I've got a titanium post in my head and why I can't take it out to get through the metal detectors."


On October 4th, Kathryn expects to cry. She cried in her doctor's office when he strapped a mock-up of a BAHA to her forehead some months ago. Even without a titanium post to enhance conduction through the skull, Kathryn could hear things in a way via the mock-up that she'd never heard before – including her own voice. She cried at that moment in her doctor's office and again in recounting the experience to her family and friends. She expects to cry again on October 4th.

Then she expects to celebrate – her life, her opportunity, her good fortune, her health, her family, her friends and co-workers, and her hearing – in that order. Those around her who are caught up in her enthusiasm, and her gutsy decision to move forward with this procedure, will be right there celebrating with her.

And, no matter on which side of Kathryn they're standing – be it to her left or to her right – they'll be saying:

"Kathryn? Can you hear me now? Way to go!"


For additional details on the science of conduction:

For additional details about the California Ear Institute where Kathryn Kranen's doctors reside:

Titanium Post

       The titanium post


September 12, 2005

Peggy Aycinena owns and operates EDA Confidential. She can be reached at

Copyright (c) 2005, Peggy Aycinena. All rights reserved.