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December 27, 2002

The gift of hearing

From: Brookings Register, SD - 27 Dec 2002

Two Flandreau children gained the ability to hear after getting cochlear implants

By: John Andrews December 27, 2002

Jorden Curran models the exterior components of his new cochlear implant.

In many homes this Christmas season, beautifully wrapped packages sit under Christmas trees and fill stockings, waiting to be opened.

But for two Flandreau children, Christmas came in June, and it came in a form that did not include wrapping paper and a bow.

For Jorden and Abigail Curran, the presents that will change their lives forever are cochlear implants, which enable the two children who were born deaf, to hear.

According to the children's mother, Deanne, just the fact that both of them are deaf is a rarity.

"A lot of times you'll see one child that's deaf and all their siblings are hearing," Deanne said. "It's just kind of a weird genetic match. We happened to match up twice."

Deanne says they began to wonder about Jorden's ability to hear shortly after he was born in January 1993.

"We could pop balloons or anything loud and he really wouldn't respond," Deanne said.

Frequent ear infections along with that overall lack of responsiveness led to auditory testing that initially did not reveal anything.

"We don't know if he was just very visually aware or whatever, but he passed the hearing test," Deanne said.

Subsequent testing, however, showed Jorden to be profoundly deaf. That's when the Currans began to research cochlear implants. But because the devices were relatively new at the time, the Currans decided to go another route with Jorden.

"We just figured we'd put hearing aids on him and he'd be fine," Deanne said.

After about a year, though, Deanne says they did not see any positive results from the hearing aids. But the Currans again decided against the implants. Instead, they opted for Jorden to begin learning American Sign Language (ASL).

When the Currans discovered that their daughter, Abigail, was also deaf, about a week after she was born in 2001, they began to look into cochlear implants again. They visited with parents of children who had received the implants and saw how much success they were having.

After Abigail's first birthday, doctors evaluated the children to determine whether or not they were good candidates for the procedure. Doctors said they were, but were hesitant to perform the operation on Jorden because he was older and already had an intact language in ASL. But the Currans were certain they wanted both of their children to have the implants.

"We just made it clear that we thought that he should have the benefit of hearing also," Deanne said. "We really didn't want one child to have the benefit and the other one not. We didn't want them to think we favored one child over the other."

With the decision made, the Currans made their way to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in June for the procedures.

In the cochlear implant surgery, doctors make a small incision behind the ear to expose the temporal bone. Then, they place the implant in a small depression formed in the temporal bone. Surgeons gain access to the cochlea by drilling a small hole in the bone. A small hole is also drilled in the cochlea itself and an electrode array is inserted. The surgery takes between two and three hours to finish. Afterward, all that remains is a small bump that hair will usually cover up. Abigail received her implant on June 6 and Jorden got his on June 26.

According to Deanne, the reactions to the implants were totally different for the two children. She says Abigail immediately began to cry and took her apparatus off, while Jorden laughed and wanted more sound. But now, six months after the surgery, Deanne says Abigail has become accustomed to the device, and especially likes to wear it when she is playing with her toys. And audiograms from each child show that the implants are doing their job. According to them, each child can hear everything in the "speech banana," which includes all sounds ranging from the softest speech to the loudest.

Now comes the challenge of learning the spoken language, which Deanne says will be easier for Abigail because of her age and because she does not have a language like Jorden does with ASL. Jorden is currently working on basic vowel and consonant sounds.

Deanne says that for now, Jorden will continue attending his classes at the School for the Deaf in Sioux Falls, but come next fall, they may try to "mainstream" him by having him attend one class, with an interpreter, at Terry Redlin Elementary in Sioux Falls.

So this holiday season, when we all give thanks for the gifts that we receive, the Curran children of Flandreau will be giving thanks for a gift that truly will keep on giving - the gift of hearing.

©Brookings Register 2002