IM this article to a friend!

July 20, 2003

Breaking the sound barrier

From: Arizona Daily Sun, AZ - Jul 20, 2003

By SETH MULLER Sun Staff Reporter

At the Radisson Hotel swimming pool, a boy took a wild leap into the water and the sound of the splash reverberated off the hotel's walls.

Ten-year-old Emily Crawford faced her mom with her back to the pool, but the sound of the splash startled her. She whipped her head around and her long, blond locks followed.

"See, she heard that," said Emily's mom, Mary Crawford, who smiled at her daughter sitting at the end of the deck lounger.

A month ago, Emily was deaf.

In early June, Emily underwent surgery for a cochlear implant at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale. The sound processor that is connected to the implant was activated on June 23. After three return trips and adjustments to the hearing aid that works with the implant, Emily has been introduced to the realm of sound, after living the first 10 years of her life in profound deafness.

Now, both Emily and her mom are learning about the simple and miraculous sense of hearing.

"One day we were walking and she said, 'I hear the wind,'" Mary Crawford said. "I just thought that was amazing."

During the past few weeks, Mary Crawford has introduced Emily to the sounds around her home and neighborhood. She's heard dogs, the television, car horns and the doorbell.

She has heard the telephone ringing, but is not quite sure what to do with it once she answers.

And she's even picked up on the sounds of crickets.

"I like hearing people talking the best," Emily signed, still not ready to use her voice yet.

Emily has enjoyed all sounds, except one. Fireworks.

"We went to see the fireworks on July 4, and that scared her," Mary Crawford said. "They were just too loud."

While she doesn't quite understand the sounds of words and the meaning, she is enjoying the enhancement of sound. She went to see the movie "Finding Nemo," a highly visual computer-animation film about a clownfish in search of his lost son. But, more importantly, she went to hear the movie.

Emily is working with Northern Arizona University speech therapists this summer to learn how to talk, now that she can hear. It's the second and most challenging part of the process.

It usually takes about a year to learn how to speak, but Emily is progressing quickly. At her session on Wednesday, she repeated a seven-word sentence back to the therapist. She most likely will not have speech mastered by the time she returns to DeMiguel Elementary School in the fall, but she will hear and start to understand the words of her fellow fourth-graders.

Even after Emily learns speech, she said that she wants to continue using sign language and her skills as a lip-reader. A number of her friends have learned sign language to communicate with her, and in some cases, to serve as interpreters.

Mary Crawford said she did not want to consider the cochlear implant for various reasons, one of which included the $50,000 cost that her insurance would not entirely cover. But she and her daughter have no regrets now.

Once the decision was reached, students and teachers at DeMiguel started to help with fund-raising.

Although Emily will become the first child in the area to receive a cochlear implant (two students have moved to the area and have enrolled in the district after getting the implants), more people are choosing the hearing enhancement surgery and device.

Studies on cochlear implants for students show that all of them make some level of improvement in their speech and communication skills, and this often means better grades and better overall school performance.

Mary Crawford said her daughter continually earns the title of miracle child. Emily was born 24 weeks premature, weighing only 1 pound, 11 ounces at birth, her footprint about the size of a thumb.

She spent four months in incubation, and was put in a special unit because she was highly sensitive to sound. Somehow, during the incubation process or early development, she lost her hearing.

But now, she has it back.

© 2000-2003 Arizona Daily Sun