Evie contracted meningitis at only three days old, unfortunately it lead to a severe hearing loss that was depreciating all the time. The meningitis lead to a calcification of the inner ear structure associated with hearing which would have got progressively worse with time resulting in an eventual inability to treat the hearing loss. Standard hearing aids were unsuitable for the infant owing to the severity and extent of the loss. It was therefore decided by Ear, Nose and throat specialists that in order to salvage any hearing function in the youngster, implantation of electrodes into the cochlea was the only option. Treating such a young child using such an invasive procedure was not without it risks, however if postponed, further calcification would have rendered the procedure impossible.
Katherine Wilson, the principal audiological scientist at St Thomas’ Hospital, said “We had to move very quickly to treat her as we wouldn’t have been able to get the implants in later. The activation process went fabulously well. This will be a long and slow process, with her coming back to hospital many times to have the devices re-programmed. We’re not trying to cure deafness – this is a way of managing and treating it. Implants give these children a different dimension to their life – something they wouldn’t otherwise have”.
Evie is now among around 5,000 children in the UK who have cochlear implants. The procedure involves drilling a 1mm whole directly into the inner ear structure and feeding a coiled electrode into the cochlea. The length of the electrode is frequency specific, which each section of the electrode stimulating a corresponding frequency region of the cochlea. The coil is connected to an external behind the ear hearing aid which detects and processes the sound. Hearing through the cochlea implant is not a natural sound, in reality it is slightly robotic. However in addition to receiving speech and language therapy, it is anticipated that Evie will achieve normal speech and communication ability.
I think it is wonderful that through a combination of newborn hearing screening (operational since 2001) and wonderful modern technology that we can restore normal communicative ability in people with no hearing. Hearing loss no longer has to result in isolation, reduced learning or social exclusion. However, there are some members within the deaf community that do not maintain the same enthusiasm with regards to correcting hearing loss and should remain within the deaf community, although these views are limited. Personally, I think it is amazing how far hearing technology has advanced in the last 5 to 10 years, and it is very pleasing being part of such a rapidly growing profession.