Friday, April 23, 2010

Cochlear Implant Activation

Yesterday was a first for me. I got to observe the activation of a cochlear implant! Doesn’t sound very cool, I’m sure, especially to those of you who don’t really know what a cochlear implant is or what it does. But I assure you, seeing one of these devices activated for the first time is pretty amazing. A cochlear implant is a device that stimulates the cochlea via an electrode array that allows an individual with little to no hearing function to be able to process sound. Prior to the widespread use of the cochlear implant, these individuals may have been fitted with hearing aids (from which they likely received little to no benefit) or learned American Sign Language and became part of the deaf community. It is WAY more complicated than that but it’s finals week and my brain isn’t totally functioning…and I’m guessing y’all out in blog land don’t really care about the technical details. Anyway…the sound that individuals “hear” through the cochlear implant is far from the normal sound that you and I hear, in fact it is relatively garbled and sounds somewhat robotic; however, it is sound none the less and the brain is able to process and make sense of it.

            These days, kids are receiving cochlear implants earlier and earlier due to required infant hearing screenings and a growing understanding of just how crucial early access to sound is to a child’s speech and language development. As a result, many students in the Mama Lere Hearing School, where I have been working this semester, have either unilateral or bilateral cochlear implants. Typically, these children are identified with a hearing loss, are surgically implanted with a cochlear implant, and a few weeks later are “turned on.” You see, the cochlear implant is not turned on or activated until a few weeks following surgery. This is to allow the incision site to heal and the implant to “settle.” Then comes the fun part. The implant is turned on and the child (or adult) can hear sound! For many of these patients this is the first time they have had access to sound in one or both ears.
            So yesterday one of the clients I have been seeing this semester was “turned on.” This little girl, only 6 years old, has worn a hearing aid in her left ear for years but has never heard a sound in her right ear. I will call her “Little A”…gossip girl style. Because her activation was approaching, this little one’s teacher had been getting her pumped up for the big day and she was very excited. Some children are scared of the process but because so many of the children at the MLHS have implants they are used to seeing their friends with them and the students think it is pretty cool to have a CI (which, by the way, comes complete with a decorative cover that the child picks out…the ones in the MLHS range from zebra print to pink flowers to camoflague!).

            Anyway…back to the activation. So this sweet little 6 year old and her family arrived at the appointment excited and ready for some right ear hearing action but braced for the possibility that Little A may not like what she hears. Implant activation can be traumatic for some young children and its not uncommon to see some tears when the device is first turned on. After showing Little A how the implant works by fitting pretend implants onto a fuzzy koala bear, her own implants were turned on.

            Instead of bursting into tears, Little A nonchalantly said, “Oh! I hear that!” Not exactly the drama I was expecting. But the really cool part came a few minutes later. Little A’s baby brother had fallen asleep in his mom’s arms during the appointment and had begun snoring. When no one was looking, Little A turned to her right, looked at her brother, and laughed at his snoring. Almost immediately, Little A’s mother was in tears. This little, insignificant moment meant the world to Little A’s mother. As she explained to us, Little A has never turned to a sound on her right. Because she had never heard on this side, she would always turn all the way around to her left to find the source of sound. Additionally, she would never have heard the soft snoring of her little brother on her right side. That was until she had received the implant. If she couldn’t hear that snoring…imagine what else she was missing out on! Little A was so proud of herself and was beaming ear to ear when she left the office with her koala bear and her brand new purple CIs. Though adjusting to her implant will certainly take time, I am so excited to see how Little A grows and develops with her new, working “ear"!
Below is a video of another child's cochlear implant activation. Though this is not Little A, this child's activation will give you an idea of what it is like!

P.S. I'm sorry that was the world's longest blog post.  But for those of you who made it this far...thanks for reading!

No comments:

Post a Comment