Landmark iPod treatment mutes Afghanistan blast victim's 'fog horn' tinnitus
A former Royal Marine injured in an IED blast has become the first UK veteran to benefit from iPod-based treatment for debilitating tinnitus.
Harris Tatakis, 39, was blown up in Afghanistan in April 2007 when his Land Rover drove over an improvised explosive device (IED).
The blast shattered his left leg, broke his right foot, ruptured both of his eardrums, caused brain damage and left him paralysed for two days.
He suffered constant tinnitus, likened to a fog horn going off in his head, and was left so hard of hearing that he had to learn to lip read.
After 10 years of suffering, a Google Alert for tinnitus brought up Levo, which delivers treatment through an iPod while a person is sleeping.
Mr Tatakis, of Cornwall, successfully applied for a Royal British Legion grant to cover the cost of his treatment and started it in January.
"It was like a dentist drill or fog horn constantly going off in my head which I couldn't get away from," he said.
"I couldn't tolerate people talking around me. Everything was horrendously loud and I couldn't get away from it.
"The tinnitus masks a lot of letters so it makes your hearing even worse, I had to learn to lip read to help me understand.
"People would look at me and they'd say, 'You're fine, there's nothing wrong with you'. I was really suffering."
He said the US-developed treatment, as well as desensitisation therapy, had allowed him "to function again as a human being".
Levo works through an iPod to deliver a personalised sound that stimulates the hearing part of the brain while a patient is sleeping.
It aims to teach the brain to ignore the hissing or buzzing associated with tinnitus and reduce its loudness and annoyance.
Mr Tatakis, who attends the Tinnitus Centre in Bristol, says his symptoms have reduced to a level that he is able "to live with".
"I'm getting my confidence back and I feel like I'm part of society again," he said.
"Beforehand I would come up with excuses not to see friends simply because I was so uncomfortable in my own skin.
"I didn't want my Marine friends to see me in this state. I just wanted to shut myself away."
Mr Tatakis is the first veteran in the UK to receive the treatment, which is being funded through the Veterans Hearing Fund - managed by the Royal British Legion.
The fund is part of the five-year Veterans Medical Funds, which use £13 million of Libor rate-fixing fines released by the Government.
"When I went into it I knew there was no guarantee that it would work, but because of how I was living day to day, I had to try something," Mr Tatakis said.
"I had nothing to lose so I knew it couldn't get any worse. I was desperate.
"The Royal British Legion is out there supporting me by paying for the treatment, and I'd encourage anyone in my position to make the most of the help.
"The Legion is here for us whether we're young or old and that's a wonderful thing.
"People suffer in silence because they don't know where to go.
"The NHS couldn't help me to the degree I needed so I looked elsewhere and I'm eternally glad I did."
Mr Tatakis, whose father served in the Royal Navy, joined the Royal Marines in 1998 and was medically discharged in 2011.
He served with 3 Commando Brigade in Kosovo, twice in Iraq and twice in Afghanistan - receiving operational service medals.
On April 3 2007, while with 42 Commando's Lima Company, Mr Tatakis was travelling in a WMIK Land Rover which drove over an IED.
He was found 35 metres away and brought back to the UK for treatment, which he received at Selly Oak Hospital and Headley Court.
Mr Tatakis is one of the ambassadors for this year's Poppy Appeal, which is asking the public to rethink what remembrance means.
The charity is calling on people to reconsider what the poppy stands for and wear it in support of the armed forces community, past and present.