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Surgical Excellence Gives the Gift of Hearing

Dr. Benjamin Malkin
Dr. Benjamin Malkin

A shy Vietnamese woman named Vo Hieu walks into the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at Elmhurst Hospital Center, stands to the left of Physician’s Assistant Sharisse Muhammad, and when Muhammad speaks, Vo Hieu turns and responds.

That wasn’t always possible.

Shortly after Vo Hieu came to America in 1991, she went swimming in the ocean and developed a serious infection in her right ear. Doctors tried, but were not able to restore her hearing. For the next 20 years, while raising three children, Frankie, 18, Michael, 13, and Emily, 9, and being a caring wife to her husband Chuc Chung, a taxi driver, Vo Hieu had no hearing in her right ear.

Enter Dr. Benjamin Malkin, Regional Director of Otolaryngology for the HHC Queens Health Network, which includes Elmhurst Hospital Center and Queens Hospital Center. Dr. Malkin, 33, a graduate of Dartmouth College and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, felt that Vo Hieu might be an ideal candidate for a new implantable hearing device. When he recommended it, Vo Hieu was eager to try it.

“Hearing is a very integral way to interact with the world around us, so when hearing is affected, it is very disabling for patients,’ Dr. Malkin said. “Single-sided deafness—when a person only gets sound in one ear—is very limiting. They have to turn their head to their good ear. They have trouble hearing when there is background noise. ”

The implantable bone conduction hearing system, which has helped Vo Hieu so much, actually doesn’t enable the patient to hear from the ear that no longer functions. Instead, it sends sound through the skull to the good ear, and the skull vibrations enable the patient to hear. Dr. Malkin began doing these sophisticated implants in November, 2010, and has so far helped 18 patients, ranging in age from 9 to 79.

“Dr. Malkin has brought many new surgical advances to the department, including advanced image-guided sinus surgery and new implantable hearing devices,” said Ann Sullivan, Senior Vice President of the HHC Queens Health Network. “These innovations have allowed us to improve the health and the quality of life of many of our patients.”

Dr. Malkin is also a leader in hospital initiatives that focus on patient safety and quality of care. He is a Master Trainer with TeamSTEPPS (Team Strategies and Tools to Enhance Performance and Patient Safety), a program developed to help health care professionals make the most of the information, people and resources available, in order to help provide the best outcomes for patients.

Dr. Malkin implemented the TeamSTEPPS methodology in the operating room. “Teamwork is really critical in a surgical setting. There cannot be miscommunication or a failure to collaborate in the OR. There cannot be mishandling of patient specimens that need to be cultured,” he said.

The son of an anesthesiologist, Dr. Malkin decided to go to medical school while doing his undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College. He was awarded the prestigious Perry Klingenstein Scholarship to attend Mount Sinai School of Medicine and stayed to do a residency in otolaryngology – ear, nose and throat surgery. During that time he did rotations at Elmhurst Hospital.

“I chose that specialty because I liked the idea of helping someone who can’t hear become able to hear again,” he says. “People rely on their senses to interact with the world around them, so being able to help them regain a sense that they have lost is very gratifying.” He also treats patients with other otolaryngologic problems, such as sinusitis and neck cancer.

The new procedures he has introduced can have a powerful impact on people’s lives. On a lovely June day, Vo Hieu, the Vietnamese patient, tells, through an interpreter, the story of her long years of not being able to hear in her right ear and how frustrating it had been.

Then her face lights up, she switches to English, and says, “My son is graduating from high school today!” Thanks to Dr. Malkin, and her new implanted hearing device, Vo Hieu was able to hear every word of the ceremony.


September 2012

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