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Music professor's sudden hearing loss restored at NKCH

Hearing Loss Treatment
Posted at 6:02 AM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 07:02:10-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One local music professor had a recent medical scare, not connected to the pandemic at all.

Now he’s sharing his story with 41 Action News, and it involves a new treatment used by one of Kansas City’s hospitals.

“I started playing the piano when I was 13, which is actually relatively late in the grand scheme of things,” said Chris Madden, University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory’s assistant professor of piano pedagogy.

He’s tickled the ivories for more than 20 years, calling’s current position a “dream job.”

One day in October, he woke up with what he thought was a clogged left ear from congestion.

“But then about five days later I really just, I was biking actually downtown and I couldn't hear the cars passing me on the left side,” Madden said.

He received a shocking diagnosis.

“They told me I had sudden sensorineural hearing loss,” he said.

Notes, once clear, were cut in half.

“It was really devastating and scary,” Madden recalled. “It makes you think about, like, how am I going to live my life like this?”

Madden started with steroids and injections, and then went to North Kansas City Hospital, beginning 20 days of treatment in a hyperbaric chamber.

“What we know is that the inner workings of the ear are very sensitive to a lack of oxygen. And so by putting the patient in the chamber which is 100% oxygen, we can oftentimes reverse the effects that they've had,” said NKCH clinical nurse manager Wendy Mall-McKee.

Madden spent two hours per session in the chamber.

“They're going to feel the pressure changes the same way you would if you were scuba diving, diving into the deep end of a pool, or in an airplane and changing altitude so their ears are gonna pop,” Mall-McKee said.

She said Madden was an eager and proactive patient.

“Not only were we invested in this care but he was too, he was his own best advocate,” she said.

But Madden's recovery didn’t happen overnight.

“Everything on the piano was still about a half step sharp, and that was actually really scary because I thought, well this is great, the volume is coming back but it's almost worse because everything is half step off in this ear compared to this ear,” he explained.

Nothing is sharp or flat now. Those notes are clear again, with the pianist grateful to finely tune and share his craft.

“It's kind of amazing that the body can go from that to just like hearing a bird off in the distance. So I think it really just makes you thankful for small things, whether it's, you know, music, or just like being able to hear a bird. It's really remarkable,” Madden said.

The hyperbaric chamber treatment is for those who experience sudden hearing loss due to a viral infection or traumatic event and isn’t for the deaf or hard of hearing communities.

NKCH told 41 Action News the patients they’ve treated in these chambers range in age from the early 30s to mid-70s.