It was late afternoon, and I was about to start supper, when my phone rang. The woman on the other end, her name was Paja, asked if I could help her with finding a lost cochlear implant. Her son, Caelan, was about to go swimming in Lake Wingra and accidentally dropped his cochlear implant in the water. I’ve searched for lots of different things with my metal detector, but never a cochlear implant. The closest thing I’ve searched for was a hearing aid, which was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever searched for. Traditional hearing aids have very little metal, aside from the pencil eraser sized battery. Paja described in detail the construction of the lost cochlear implant. Turns out a cochlear implant has one key attribute – it contains a magnet, which would prove to be the deciding factor in finding the lost cochlear implant in Lake Wingra.
I quickly packed up the van with all my normal metal detecting equipment. For this hunt, I also packed a secret weapon – a magnet. It might come as a surprise to you (but it really shouldn’t) that another hobby of mine is something called “magnet fishing”. What is magnet fishing … well just what it sounds like. You take a large rare earth magnet (neodymium), tie it to a rope and chuck it off a bridge or pier. Then you pull it in and see what “treasures” you found. There will be no gold, silver or other precious metals returning from a cast into the water, as these items are not magnetic. Check out YouTube for videos of people pulling bikes, guns, tools and other various “treasures”.
Metal Detecting in the Lake
I arrived at the lake to find Simeon, Caelan’s dad, hunched over in the water shifting in the weeds with his hands. I saw an assortment of tools on the shore. Simeon had given up on the large plastic yard rake and a contractor magnet on wheels (used to pickup nails after a roofing job). He had been searching for awhile, with Paja and Caelan searching even longer before he arrived. They said that finding a lost cochlear implant in the water was harder than they imagined. I quickly jumped in with my metal detector to “survey” the area.
The water was between ankle and knee deep, which is a perfect depth. However, my metal detector started to go crazy due to all the trash in the water. Every swing of my metal detector coil resulted in a beep. Luckily, Caelan had only lost one of his cochlear implants in the water. I was able to test the other one with my metal detector to determine what the signal would sound like. I was then able to eliminate a majority of the “noise” from the trash in the lake.
Weeds, Rocks and Muck
The bottom of the lake was covered with a 3 to 4 inch layer of muck, which is by itself not a problem. I use a large sand scoop, see my review here – Xtreme Metal Detecting. However, under the muck was a solid layer of rock. I also did not want to mistakenly drive the tip of the sand scoop through the cochlear implant in the event it was still working. So I used the metal detector to find a signal, and then attempt to feel around for it with my hands. Then, I remembered we had brought our magnet. I used the metal detector to find a signal and then swept the area with the magnet. I felt the anticipation from shore each time I raised the magnet from the water. Disappointment quickly followed when the magnet was empty.
Finding a Lost Cochlear Implant – Just Takes Patience
I will turn over the rest of the story to Paja, who tells the rest of the story from her vantage point. Summer had finally arrived. The kids and I headed to Lake Wingra for our first boat outing. We had just purchased a family membership with Madison Boats. Caelan, age 11, took out a kayak, as did his friend, Zev. Sorin, age 13, and his friend were also out on SUPs. Sorin and Caelan were both born profoundly deaf and wear cochlear implants that allow them to hear nearly the same as their typical hearing peers.
They can do what all kids do their age, including swimming and being out on the water! But it so happened that this was our first boating voyage this summer. We hadn’t quite gotten things together and organized with respect to their cochlear implants. This meant that we didn’t follow standard protocol. We didn’t use the water proof covers, we didn’t clip the cochlear implants to their life jackets, or insist on swim caps to cover the implants and help keep them in place.
Lost Cochlear Implant
Caelan, who loves the water more than land itself, spent more time in the lake than in his kayak this particular afternoon. This meant taking off his implants, handing them to someone while he swam, and putting them back on once he had gotten back into his boat. As luck would have it, he dropped one of his cochlear implants straight down into the lake. He was about 5 feet from shore where the water is only two feet deep. But at the water’s edge the bottom of the lake is dense with sediment, rocks, algae, and plants that grow thick like cobwebs. I got the word that the implant had dropped and that it was unlikely we could recover it easily.
After sending out an urgent note to our neighborhood message board asking if anyone had a large magnet that could be used underwater, our friend Danny Goldman who is a professional problem solver and therapist who offers services from Guide Forward, sent us a note telling us to check out Dan’s website. Admittedly, I dismissed it at first thinking, “How could a ring finder help us?” But Simeon, my husband, urged me to call. So I did! Dan answered right away. I explained the situation, asked about his service, and was stunned when he said, “Sure, I can come and help. I’ll skip dinner and be there in 20 minutes.” I couldn’t believe it.
The Ring Finders to the Rescue
Dan and his daughter promptly arrived with a caravan of equipment—multiple metal detectors, different sized magnets and sand scoops. Feeling desperate and increasingly worried about the cost of replacing the implant which would have been upwards of $3,000, we pointed to the area in the lake where Caelan remembered dropping it. We sat on the shore patiently, watching and listening to Dan talk about what he was doing. He explained why and how he had helped recover nearly 100 rings in his years as a lost ring finder. After about 45 minutes as we watched the sun begin to go down, hungry and tired, Dan took a step closer to the shore as he swept through the “underwater grid” he had created. BOOM! That was it! He found it!!!! Unbelievable.
People could hear us cheering all across Madison! The cochlear implant had been underwater for 4 hours. Dan handed the implant to Caelan who looked up in amazement. The flashing light that indicates the battery is operational was still flashing yellow. He put the implant on and exclaimed, “It still works!!” It was an amazing ending to what had started out as a terrible afternoon. We will be forever thankful to Dan the Ring (and Cochlear Implant) Man!
NBC15 News Story
On July 11, 2020 – the local NBC affiliate did a story on the lost cochlear implant. Check out the story here: Local Ring Finder Helps Find Cochlear Implant.