IM this article to a friend!

November 27, 2002

Currans celebrate Thanksgiving thankful for the gift of sound

From: Moody County Enterprise, SD
Nov. 27, 2002

By: Cynthia Sheppard November 27, 2002
A barking dog. The ringing of an alarm clock. The sound of mother's voice. A slammed door. A radio's music.
Such sounds are ordinary and everyday for those who live in a hearing world. The gift of hearing is often taken for granted, and most people cannot imagine life without sound.
The world of silence was all that Jorden and Abigail Curran, children of Joel and Deanne Curran of Flandreau, knew in their young lives. Both children were born profoundly deaf to hearing parents. This past June, the two children had their world of silence opened to sound with cochlear implants, and this year the Curran family is thankful for the technology that made this possible.

Researchers have no explanation as to why the children cannot hear. Deanne experienced no complications during pregnancy and there were do dietary or medication reasons that could be found.

It is very unusual for two siblings to be deaf, unless there is a family history, and such could not be traced in this case. The only answer is that the Currans are somehow a genetic match that produced the condition. Since they have had both a boy and a girl, the deafness was not limited to just one sex.

After careful consideration and much consultation, the parents opted for nine-year-old Jorden and 20-month-old Abigail to have cochlear implants this past summer at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. Although both could have had the surgery the same day, the Currans are thankful that doctors convinced them to do one at a time. "It would have been too emotionally draining to go through the surgery and recovery with both of them at once," says Deanne.

Abigail had her surgery on June 6, and Jorden followed with his surgery on June 26. Abby was evaluated just after her first birthday, and she was considered a prime candidate. Jorden was older, and he has American Sign Language as his means of communication. The decision was more difficult with him, but the parents discussed the procedure with Jorden so he would understand the possibilities. The Currans note that they would not have wanted Abigail to have the experience of a world of sound, and then have Jorden wonder later why he didn't have the same opportunity.

Cochlear implant procedure

Cochlear implants are designed to replace the sensory cells of the auditory system. These cells convert the mechanical fluid motion of the inner ear into electrical impulses that are transmitted by the auditory nerve and interpreted by the brain as sound. Different from hearing aids, which only amplify sound, the cochlear implants work by placing electrodes within the cochlea and applying an electrical current to the electrode site. This current spreads and stimulates the remaining neural tissue.

The cochlear implant surgery involves an incision behind the ear, and a small depression in the mastoid bone behind the ear is formed to hold the implant in place. The electrode array is inserted into the cochlea, which is adult size at birth, and the thin, tapered, flexible construction of the electrode array minimizes damage during insertion. It conforms to the cochlea's curved shape. The incision is then closed and the head is bandaged.

Once the skin heals, the implant is barely noticeable, with only a slight bump remaining. The incision is concealed by the ear, and the hairstyle generally covers the slight bump.

After the incision has healed, about a month after each surgery, the Currans returned to Mayo to have the system activated. At this time, each child was fitted with the external components: a speech processor, a microphone which attaches behind the ear and looks similar to a hearing aid, and the transmitting coil, which is held securely in place over the implant by a magnet. The processor is carried by Jorden in a fanny pack, and Abigail has special pockets sewn into the back of her clothing to hold the small box.

Up until this time, the children were not able to hear sound, but an audiologist uses special computer software to program each electrode to the appropriate levels of stimulation. These processors are very individualized for the amount of stimulation each one needs. The family travels back for check-ups and to fine tune the processor on a regular basis.

The time for turning on the sound was an emotional one for the whole family. Abigail's reaction was crying, for she had been living in a quiet world, and now there was sound. Joel said, "It took a couple of weeks for her to adjust to sound. Whenever we'd turn it on, she would cry. She learned that if she didn't want sound, she just took off the apparatus."

Jorden's reaction was another matter. His parents watched as the sound was turned on; they saw him smile, giggle and then laugh. Jorden was receiving a gift that had been denied him for the first nine years of his life, and he was delighting in the experience.

Original diagnoses

When Jorden was 18 months old, he was finally diagnosed as profoundly deaf. His parents had noticed that he had difficulty sitting up and seemed to have balance problems. He was seen by various doctors and had hearing tests, but for some reason, the problem was not discovered. On a visit to Boys Town in Nebraska, further tests were done, and the Currans received the news.

"Our first step was hearing aids," says Deanne. "We thought that this was the answer and would help him to respond to sounds. It was difficult to realize that hearing aids were not the answer, and after two years, we removed them. Jorden began pre-school at South Dakota School for the Deaf at age 2 1/2 years old, and while he was a happy child, it was frustrating for him not to be able to express himself. He would try to communicate by gestures and pulling on us."

Jorden began to learn American Sign Language (ASL), and that has become his mode of communication. His parents took classes, so that they are also able to communicate with their son. With the cochlear implant, Jorden can now hear sounds, but he is not able to decipher those sounds, and he will need to learn this second language one step at a time.

Joel said, "The doctors explained it to us this way: when a baby is born his ears are new and he is just beginning to hear sounds. When Jorden had the cochlear implant, his ears are as old as the implant. So now his hearing is just six months old. You would not hear Japanese for the first time and understand it; so Jorden needs to learn the spoken language, too."

Jorden continues with his education at SDSD, but his education has changed. He now has auditory training as well as signing, and he attends speech classes five days a week. His parents work with him, showing an object, saying the name, signing the name and saying the name again. They hope to mainstream him into a regular classroom across the street from SDSD in Sioux Falls, where he would attend one class.

The Currans hope that Abigail will be able to attend a regular classroom, depending on how her hearing and speech progresses. Because of their experience with Jorden, the parents were much more aware of what to observe, and although they did not think this could happen again, Abigail was diagnosed much earlier as profoundly deaf. Her age is an advantage, as she is in the beginning of speech awareness. She will also learn ASL, for her parents want her to communicate with her brother, and once she takes off her hearing processor, she is still deaf.

Joel and Deanne Curran have learned much over the past years about the world of silence. Their experience has been shared with many, and Deanne says, "Our family and the community here has been so very supportive. Many have helped in many ways, and our church raised funds to help with expenses."

Now that Jorden and Abigail have had their world opened to sounds, they, too, may hear those everyday noises that we often take for granted. Clapping hands. The sound of laughter. A mother's voice. A car horn.

Perhaps each of us should add a thank you this Thanksgiving, and that thanks would be for the blessing of hearing ears.

©Moody County Enterprise 2002