Advance with MUSC Health

Athletic Trainer with Cochlear Implant Glides Toward Success – On & Off of the Ice

Advance With MUSC Health
October 05, 2021
Max Finley on the ice facing Canadian opponent.

Max Finley’s cochlear implant is a conversation starter -- in more ways than one.

Certainly, the tiny device that processes sound and stimulates the auditory nerve has enabled him to hear and talk; it’s also a source of intrigue when people learn he’s wearing a robotic ear.

“The implant is very small and discreet, hardly noticeable, but when people find out I have one, they’re curious about how it works and what it looks like. I’ll explain and even show it to them, and then, that’s it. They quickly realize that I’m no different from them as far as my hearing is concerned. It shows a lot of people that the hearing-impaired are able-bodied people who can absolutely exceed expectations. It blows their mind.”

Max Finley HeadshotIn fact, Finley, 27 an athletic trainer for MUSC Health and the South Carolina Stingrays, has been exceeding expectations for most of his life. He’s the first to say his cochlear implant introduced him to a world of opportunity – one people can only dream about.

Diagnosed as profoundly deaf after a bout of bacterial meningitis at the age of 5, he got his first cochlear implant when he was 6 years old.

“I was born with normal hearing and had no issues or disabilities,” he says. “The antibiotics caused me to lose my hearing completely. I’d already been ice skating since I was a little guy, and it was one of my favorite sports. I had dreams of playing in the National Hockey League.”

When he was 15, his parents began sending him each year to a weeklong hockey school in Chicago run by the American Hearing Impaired Hockey Association. There, Finley honed his slap shots, snap shots, and learned the nuances of the sport along with other hearing-impaired athletes from hearing-impaired coaches and teachers.

He also gained something else: “Being in a supportive, positive environment helped shape me and definitely boosted my confidence on and off the ice. The coaches and teachers had normal jobs, and it was great to see what they could do and the jobs they held. I’m so grateful for that organization; they’re like family.”

Although he played high school baseball and football in his hometown of Peoria, Illinois, being on the ice was his first love.

As soon as he finished high school in 2013, he was selected to play on AHIHA’s national hockey team for the hearing impaired. His position? Forward, of course. And nearly 10 years later, he’s still gliding forward, on and off the ice.

Finley balanced his ice hockey play with his collegiate studies as deftly as he wields a hockey stick, earning his bachelor’s degree in athletic training from Northern Illinois University. He still plays on the national team, a position he considers an honor.

Max Finley in hockey uniform on the ice posing in front of a goal

“I got my start playing on that team and have represented the United States in Canada, Italy, Finland and Russia and throughout the United States,” he says. “Any time anyone has the chance to represent their country, it’s a great honor. Getting to wear the red, white and blue and playing on that team brought everything full circle and made me realize how lucky I am to have these opportunities. If my hearing were normal, I might not have been able to travel and play hockey at the same time.”

Since the cochlear implant was developed and approved by the Food and Drug Administration in the mid-1980s, more than 180,000 devices have been implanted in adults and children in the United States, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

Although Finley still has a strong connection with the deaf and hard of hearing and volunteers each year at the hockey camp, his message about the cochlear implant is clear: “For 22 years it has allowed me to speak, hear other people and listen to music and live as normally as possible,” he says. “When I go to my audiologist for a check-up, when I wear my implant, my hearing levels are around comparable to those of a normal person.”

And what would he tell people who are considering a cochlear implant or another hearing device?

“I would tell them to discuss it with their doctor and learn about the options,” he says. “Try to find a community or group and ask them questions about their implant or their hearing aid. You can get firsthand knowledge and a lot of input on what your life might be like.”

He says a trusting relationship with an audiologist is key. “It’s great to form a connection; they’re the ones who make these little changes with your implant and your hearing and make it possible to have the best opportunity to enjoy your life.”

Reflecting on his life, what he’s accomplished, and the benefits of the implant, Finley is straightforward.

“I don’t see my hearing loss as a disability,” he says. “I’m an athletic trainer working in professional sports. Without my cochlear implant, I’d be completely deaf. I want people who have a hearing loss to look up to that and ask, ‘Why can’t I do that?’”

The Division of Audiology within the Department of Otolaryngology at MUSC provides outstanding care to patients of all ages with hearing loss and ear related disorders, including patients with cochlear implants. Along with our Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) physicians, we offer the largest and most comprehensive cochlear implant program in the state of South Carolina, and are recognized throughout the country for our clinical and research excellence.

To find out more about cochlear implants and resources for patients with hearing loss, please visit MUSC Health's Cochlear Implant Program and follow us on Facebook and Instagram (@musccochlearimplant).