IM this article to a friend!

November 1, 2002

High-tech device tests infant hearing

From: Detroit News, MI
Nov. 1, 2002

No. 1 birth defect diagnosed before speech is impaired

By Charles E. Ramirez / The Detroit News

ANN ARBOR -- Madison Gotts lay quietly in her bassinet at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital.
The six-pound, 11-ounce infant continues to sleep as Pam Willoughby, the nurse charged with caring for Madison and her mother, gently fixes earphones on the newborn's head.

But, she stirs and cries just a little as Willoughby carefully places tiny electrodes on Madison's forehead and the nape of her neck.
"Sometimes babies are a little bugged by us putting the equipment on them," said Willoughby, a registered nurse who coordinates the hearing tests for newborns at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital of Ann Arbor.
After Madison settles back to sleep, the machine connected to the earphones begins its job -- testing the baby's hearing.
First, the device pipes tiny, soft clicking noises into Madison's earphones.
Next, the laptop computer that operates the testing equipment measures the baby's brain waves to see if she can hear the sounds.
For the last two years, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital of Ann Arbor has used this high-tech tool to screen about 8,000 newborns like Madison for hearing problems -- the No. 1 birth defect in the country.
In fact, 12,000 babies are born with some form of hearing loss in the United States every year, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association -- or ASHA. The organization, which is based in Rockville, Md., is the national, professional, scientific and credentialing association for more than 105,000 hearing specialists.
"Studies show that even mild hearing loss in children can create serious problems with their speech and language development," said Pam Mason, ASHA's director of audiology practice policy and consultation. "Identifying the problem at an earlier age, lets doctors start the intervention process sooner."
Until the late '80s, most American children with hearing loss weren't identified until they reached the age of three -- by then the problem had already set back to their normal speech and language development.
Currently, 37 states and the District of Columbia have laws requiring automatic and universal newborn hearing testing. Michigan is among five states that have voluntary screening programs and most hospitals in the state conduct hearing tests on newborns before they're discharged to their parents.
St. Joseph Mercy started testing for hearing loss in October 1999, Willoughby said. The hospital conducts the test without additional charge to parents.
It uses technology developed by Natus Medical Inc., a San Carlos, Calif. company that makes devices designed to rapidly screen for common disorders in newborns. The company has sold more than 4,000 hearing screening machines worldwide which have tested more than eight million infants. St. Joseph Mercy paid about $17,000 for its hearing screener.
"I think the hearing screening is a great idea," said Madison's mom, Heather Gotts, a 27-year-old insurance agent from Milan. "If there's a problem, I'd like to know sooner than later."
Finally, Willoughby gives Heather and her husband, Joel, the good news: Madison is hearing things just fine and the new parents are happy to know their little girl will be able to hear them singing her lullabies.

You can reach Charles E. Ramirez at (313) 222-2401 or

Copyright 2002 The Detroit News.