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March 16, 2003

3-year-old set to hear first sounds Monday

From: Carolina Morning News, SC - 16 Mar 2003

RIDGELAND Boy's cochlear implant turned on at MUSC.

By Mark Kreuzwieser
Carolina Morning News

Where there's a Will, there's a way ... to hear for the first time.

Three-year-old Will Hanners, son of Chris and Amy Hanners of Ridgeland, travels to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston today for a scheduled appointment to hear on Monday.

Born five weeks early, Will, a rambunctious, friendly little boy with dark eyes and hair, was diagnosed as deaf at the age of 3 months. Doctors didn't know what caused the deafness, but he quit breathing shortly after birth and the lack of oxygen may have damaged nerves that control hearing.

His parents tried hearing aids and other therapy, but nothing worked.

Will turned 2, and the Hanners decided to start the year-long preparation for a cochlear implant. The Hanners had been going to MUSC for treatment and tests, so they decided to see the specialists there for the relatively new process.

"The doctors and everyone at MUSC know Will so well and he knows them, we thought it best to go there," said Amy. There are four other hospitals that offer the therapy and surgery in South Carolina, and Savannah has a hospital that performs it too.

The Hanners then qualified for federal aid to pay for the $60,000 process, which began in February 2002.

The Hanners hope that their child will accept sounds which are expected to be alien and possibly scary to him.

"I bet he'll be angry when he hears tones the first time," said Amy. "That's just the way he is. They'll make him mad at first."

Patients who receive hearing transplants react in many different ways, from anger and fright, to delight and shock. Many patients, especially older ones, doctors have said, turn off their implants and revert to their old way of "hearing" - sign language or lip-reading.

Amy said Will has already begun picking up on lip-reading and he knows some sign language. Doctors and therapists at MUSC and the Hanners long ago began weaning Will off alternative hearing communication methods. Others in the field feel like sign language and even lip-reading should be encouraged because cochlear implants do not cure deafness but simulate the hearing process.

After practice and therapy, patients begin to differentiate different tones and sounds and eventually are able to fully hear voices and real-world sounds, like bird calls, and communicate verbally.

On Friday afternoon, Will's quiet nature bespoke his deafness, but everything else about him was as normal as any other 3-year-old. "He loves to be with his brother and sister (2-year-old twins Madison and Mason) and their friends. He doesn't want to be left out of the fun, and I think he wonders why everyone's mouths are moving."

Therapy includes learning the meaning of mouths moving and how people communicate, Amy said. It's complicated, and she hopes that even though Will is very young, he can rapidly get used to the new sounds he'll soon be hearing.

"They'll turn the implant on Monday, but just a little, and then in two weeks turn it up a little more, and then a little at a time over six months," she said.

The implant was inserted into Will's hearing organ, the cochlea, under the skin behind his right ear on Feb. 17. Doctors on Monday will hook up an external sound processor and other components that resemble a hearing aid, essentially bypassing the damaged hearing organ and stimulate the usable nerve fibers to go to the brain. Doctors say that patients often learn to listen and understand speech and environmental sounds.

Chris and Amy hope that Will discovers his lost sense, and some day soon hears their voices for the first time.

"I think this will give Will a better chance at a normal life," she said. "It would be so difficult to be deaf in this world."

And she hopes that others will hear that the process is available. "I know that some people have severely or profoundly deaf children, and I want them to know it's not the end of the world."

Reporter Mark Kreuzwieser can be reached at 305-0004 and

Copyright 2002 Carolina Morning News. All rights reserved.