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May 28, 2003

Implant surgery lets boy enjoy sounds of his everyday world

From: Shelby Star, NC - May 28, 2003

Joy Scott
Star Staff Writer

SHELBY — In Jordan Brown's 8-year-old world, there is sound.

The statement may appear minor to those who don't know Jordan's story.

But those who know where he was — a toddler reading lips, who couldn't hear the choo choo of a train passing through his neighborhood or his own laughter — it's no small declaration.

On a warm spring day, he'd rather be outside zooming up and down the street on his bicycle than inside answering questions about his hearing.

Turning over on his side on his mother's plush floral couch, he responds bashfully, "Trains," when asked what sounds he most likes to hear.

After thinking it over some more, he adds, "Airplanes."

His response is melodic to his mother, Angela Bell.

"It's just really touched me," she said.

Jordan is able to hear because of cochlear implant surgery he had Sept. 10, 1999.

He was born with an underdeveloped inner ear, or cochlea, that left him deaf.

Family members suspected something was wrong with Jordan's hearing because he wasn't speaking as they expected. But doctors said he would grow out of it, comforting their fears.

It wasn't until Jordan was 2 years old that hearing tests confirmed he could not hear. Ms. Bell at first blamed herself.

"I was hurt. I felt like I was just crushed. What didn't I do right?"

But doctors said the impairment was out of everyone's hands.

Finding out Jordan couldn't hear was also how they learned he was reading lips to get by.

The surgery was mentioned to her at a checkup.

A three-year time lapse between the discovery and the surgery gave Ms. Bell time to mull over the possibilities for Jordan and his future.

"I wanted him to hear," she said. "To know he was born that way and he was born that way for a reason, and it's all in God's hands. To be able to hear my voice and me to be able to tell him I love him.

"It's just something I wanted him to have. It's not like I wanted to change God's plans.

Despite no guarantees of outcome, Ms. Bell opted for surgery. A grant paid for the more than $70,000 surgery and equipment. The procedure was done at Chapel Hill, and Jordan was 5.

When the implant was turned on, at first Jordan didn't respond as hearing experts had hoped.

But the hope was rekindled when Jordan responded to the sound of an electric guitar at home. The instrument was a surprise present from his aunt's co-workers.

"He was just so happy to hear," his mother remembers.

Fast forward three years.

The scar remains at the side of Jordan's head. That's where the implant is.

Students in Jordan's second-grade class at Graham Elementary School adore him. The implant is hardly noticeable.

Jordan's first cochlear implant required a cord to connect to a battery pack he had to carry with him all the time. With the newest technology, that's no longer necessary.

It's not unusual for Jordan to stop in the hallway, walk over to Principal Linda Hopper and give her a hug.

"He's just a joy to have here in the school," she says.

Jordan is one of two students at Graham Elementary with the implant.

His placement in first grade last year was his first year in a mainstream classroom.

"They've done a wonderful job," said Ms. Bell of the school.

"He's already reading," said his teacher, Mary Bowen. "He always participates and plays with the children and carries on conversations with the other children."

He's on the same level as his peers in math. He's artistic and enjoys sports.

A hurdle for Jordan is tackling his reading, comprehension and speech. But he's leaped this year.

"At the beginning of the school year he was basically, as far as his writing, still in the early stages with the strings of letters, and that has improved to simple sentences," said Ms. Bowen.

Jordan is a socialite in the class.

"I think part of that is because Jordan is so likeable and so friendly and easy to get along with," she said.

Even when Jordan doesn't think he's learning, he is.

At home, tasks are educational games — putting on his clothes, telling his mother and 11-year-old brother, Aaron, what vegetables are on his plate and what sound he's hearing now. Jordan's family not only reinforces what he learns at school, but centers a constant learning environment to help him develop.

When Jordan rides his bike, Ms. Bell has worries just as any other mother would.

On Sept. 5, 2002, that worry was confirmed when Jordan was struck by a car.

Aside from a few scrapes and bruises and a knee that gives him trouble at times, he wasn't hurt seriously. Neither was the implant.

Jordan can usually hear the cars coming, and if he doesn't, the neighbor children let him know.

But just in case, a yellow street sign up the road from his house warns motorists, "Deaf Child Area."

His mother asked Shelby City Council for the sign.

"With his situation, deep down it's always been a concern," she said.

Because of the grant that provided the surgery, Jordan's implant will always be updated with the latest technology.

Jordan's latest audiology report in February places his hearing normal levels. At times, he can hear sounds most people can't.

After his next audiology test in August, he will only need to see the doctor once a year.

Jordan has aspirations of being either a doctor or in the emergency rescue field, said Ms. Bell.

The blaring of the sirens excite him.

For his mother, knowing he can hear it, "It's uplifting."

Copyright © 2002, The Shelby Star ,The Gaston Gazette , a Freedom Communications, Inc. , Company. All rights reserved.