IM this article to a friend!

January 13, 2003

New world - thanks to ear implant

From: Norfolk Eastern Daily Press, UK - 13 Jan 2003


January 13, 2003 09:30

Kimberleigh Fitchett reaches out and presses the doorbell as her dad carries her indoors from playing in the garden.

She giggles as it chimes – normal for a playful five-year-old girl, except that not long ago she would have heard nothing.

Kimberleigh was born profoundly deaf, but the condition was not picked up for three years. Now she has begun talking and counting, and has even started school.

The youngster missed out on much of the crucial early support that most deaf children receive because of the delay in recognising what was wrong.

She also nearly missed out on the chance of a life-changing operation. Using technology developed in Australia, surgeons at Addenbrooke's, Cambridge, said they could give Kimberleigh a “bionic ear” – a series of electrodes implanted deep in the inner ear, which when linked to a microphone and portable computer, can mimic the behaviour of a normal hearing ear.

Funding difficulties meant that the Norfolk Health Authority was unable to pay for the cochlear implant operation and delaying it further could have meant Kimberleigh would never speak.

“The best we can hope for from the opera-tion is that she will be able to hear speech and traffic. If she doesn't have it now, she may never speak at all,” said her stepfather, Tony Watts, at the time.

Thankfully, the intervention of the EDP and Yarmouth MP Tony Wright meant the operation was brought forward and those fraught times are a distant memory.

“The implant has to be adjusted especially for her because everyone hears things differently. It's like a mixing desk in a recording studio, all the different sounds have to be balanced out so they sound right together,” said Mr Watts.

“The consultants played games with her linked to sounds, like putting a bead in a pot when she heard a noise. It was difficult because she would get bored and just put beads in anyway.

“The implant is clever. There are different programs on it, so she can change the sound depending on what she is doing. If she is trying to listen to someone close by, the sound processor can cut out background noise to make it clearer.”

The implant does not mean that Kimberleigh has normal hearing. It cannot provide the same amount of detail a normal ear can pick up, but it has made a tremendous difference.

“Kimberleigh couldn't speak before, and now she can pick up and imitate sounds,” said Mr Watts.

“It meant so much when she finally said 'mum' and 'dad', because she tried so hard. She can also count out loud from one to six, and sometimes to 10. She struggles to do it, and really shouts out the 10 when she gets there.

Her improving communication skills have also made it possible to switch schools closer to her home at Amethyst Close, Gorleston.

“She now goes to the Elm Tree Primary in Lowestoft, which means she doesn't have as long a day as when she was at Norwich.

“The school have set up a signing club so that other children can learn to sign, and Kimberleigh even helps teach the other children. Her brothers and sister are also picking it up,” said Mr Watts.

“She is nowhere near where a normal five- year-old would be, but it's getting better all the time.”

Copyright © 2003 Archant Regional. All rights reserved.