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March 19, 2003

Child hears sounds for first time

From: Carolina Morning News,SC - Mar 19, 2003

RIDGELAND Will Hanners' cochlear implant turned on.

By Mark Kreuzwieser Carolina Morning News

A Ridgeland couple is joyful over the sounds that their 3-year-old son heard at the Medical University of South Carolina on Monday.

After Will Hanners underwent numerous medical tests, including psychological screens and CAT scans, an implant was inserted into his inner ear's cochlea in February.

A microphone sits behind his right ear, picks up sound waves and sends them to a processor the boy wears in a pack on his back.

Doctors at MUSC turned on the device for the first time Monday after about a year of preparation. His parents, Amy and Chris Hanners, weren't sure how their son would react, but they knew he'd be a trooper.

As he played with toys, sounds began entering his world for the first time. He simply turned and placed his face in his father's lap. He then raised his head and rubbed his eyes like he was upset.

"He didn't act mad like I thought he would," said Amy. "He acted like he had done something wrong, and he was crying. But no tears were shed. It was like he was play-acting crying."

She smiled and glanced at her son as he watched a cartoon on the TV with the sound turned down.

"I guess we can turn that up a little now," she joked. "He is hearing everything we're hearing, but not as clear.

"I think it's been very tiring for him. He's not as active right now."

The volume on the implant will be gradually turned up by doctors and therapists over the next six to 12 months, although the Hanners can turn it down at any time. They also turn it off at bedtime.

The microphone is a small plastic half-moon shaped aid that clips on to Will's outer ear. A magnet holds a round transmitting coil to his scalp, and a couple of wires connect everything to the processor in a backback.

Since Monday, Will has been quieter than normal, perhaps because his own noises confuse him. Doctors and therapists expect him to talk in about a year, and in six months he should respond to his name being called.

What all this means for him, only time will tell, but his parents simply wanted to try everything that was available to help him hear.

"We are trying to do anything we can to better his life," Chris said. "We felt this was one step."

Will has been deaf since as early as 3 months. His hearing may have been damaged shortly after birth.

The Hanners tried hearing aids and other therapy, but nothing worked.

The $60,000 cochlear implant is being paid for by Medicaid, but the cost of some accessories may have to be borne by the Hanners.

And when the speech processor has to be replaced, perhaps in three years, the Hanners will have to pay for it. Warranties will replace components due to accidental breakage only once.

The Hanners also have 2-year-old twins, a girl, Madison, and a boy, Mason. They'll provide most of the new sounds Will can expect to hear.

"It was a nice, quiet environment up there (at MUSC and the Ronald McDonald House), but now we're back home and there's plenty of noise," Amy said.

Will has his next appointment with doctors and therapists in two weeks, after which he'll see his hearing and speech therapists once a month.

Reporter Mark Kreuzwieser can be reached at 305-0004 and

Copyright 2002 Carolina Morning News. All rights reserved.