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December 15, 2002

Girl's plight falls on helpful ears

From: Indianapolis Star, IN - 15 Dec 2002

7-year-old travels from Kenya for cochlear implant after mysterious hearing loss.

By Rob Schneider

December 15, 2002

Some time after Monday, Violet Yebei will know for sure whether her prayers will be answered and her 7-year-old daughter will hear again.

"It is almost unbelievable," Yebei said Saturday of the effort that brought her family thousands of miles from their home in Kenya to the Boone County home of a doctor at the Indiana University School of Medicine.

On Monday, her daughter, Ann, will receive a cochlear implant at Riley Hospital for Children. The implant allows the ear to process sound and send the information to the brain.

The family's journey started on July 31, the day Ann celebrated her seventh birthday with a party, went to bed and woke up deaf.

Ann experienced a partial hearing loss in her right ear when she was 3, but this was different. She complained she couldn't hear anything people were saying. When Yebei spoke, Ann looked at her and said she couldn't hear her mother, either.

Doctors in Eldoret, where Yebei, a medical anthropologist, teaches at Moi University, couldn't explain the hearing loss and suggested taking her to Nairobi, a four- to five-hour drive away.

There, doctors could offer little more in the way of hope.

The doctors did offer the parents a warning, though. Unless Ann received a cochlear implant, the hearing loss would drastically affect her ability to speak.

Yebei's absence at the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital was noted by staff from the IU School of Medicine, who have worked with Moi University medical staff since 1990.

Yebei was involved with a study that looks at the effects the stigma of AIDS has on people seeking health care.

News of Ann's problems were relayed back to the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis.

"When we heard about Ann, we contacted Richard Miyamoto, the pioneer of cochlear implants, and we asked him if he could help," said Dr. Robert Einterz, director of the IU-Kenya program. Miyamoto, a surgeon at Riley Hospital for Children, answered, "Absolutely," he said.

Not only could he help, but Miyamoto managed to work it out so the expensive operation and the implant would not cost the Yebei family anything.

The Kenyan family set about raising money to fly here. They sold belongings ranging from furniture to a few cows so the parents and Ann's sister, Esther, 2, could all make the trip.

They arrived at the end of November and moved in with Einterz, his wife, Lee Anne, and the couple's five children in their home near Zionsville.

Ann's father, Philemon Yebei, expects he will have to give up his job managing an insurance office in Kenya because he plans to stay with Ann in Indianapolis for about six months so she can have the necessary checkups and rehabilitation. Violet Yebei expects to return to Kenya with Esther by February.

"I used to go to church and cry to God to give her one ear," Violet Yebei said.

But after a friend's 7-year-old son died after shoving a cap from a ballpoint pen up his nose, her perspective changed.

"It shocked me into realizing I still have something."

Copyright 2002 All rights reserved