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November 13, 2003

Cochlear implant should bring back Kaitlin's world of sound

From: Ogden Reporter, IA - Nov 13, 2003

"Unexplainable nerve damage" caused her to lose her hearing


Kaitlin Weltha, a third grader at Howe Elementary, is anxiously waiting for Wednesday, Nov. 19, 2003.

Kaitlin is hoping she will be able to sign up for dance, an activity she was forced to give up because she couldn't hear the music. And when she returns home, hopefully she'll be able to hear whimpers from her new little puppy "Spex", and watch her favorite programs on television without having to read the captioning.

Kaitlin has had to depend on lip reading nearly half her life to communicate with others.

Doctors can't explain exactly what went wrong with her hearing, attributing it as "unexplainable nerve damage."

"What? What?"

Kaitlin's mother, Kellie Phipps, noticed a change in her daughter's hearing at age four when she kept responding with "What? What?" Prior to that there were no indications of hearing loss.

"As an infant she responded just fine to our voices," said Kellie.

During Kaitlin's kindergarten physical, tests indicated a 50% hearing loss in both ears. She was fitted with hearing aids. At age seven doctors detected a dramatic decline in her hearing and said Kaitlin fell in the severe to profound hearing range. Stronger hearing aids were ordered. At that point an ear specialist said she would be an excellent candidate for a cochlear implant, and referred Kaitlin to Iowa City where she endured two days of tests in August.

Doctors explained how cochlear implants are different from a hearing aid. Whereas hearing aids amplify sound, cochlear implants compensate for damaged or non-working parts of the inner ear.

Kaitlin was at an advantage in that she had already developed speech skills, unlike many hearing impaired children.


"She was fortunate to be able to pick up speech before her hearing got really bad," Kellie explained.

Kaitlin's surgery was Thursday, Oct. 23. Her two brothers, Cody, 16, and Nick, 13, looked after things at home while Kaitlin had her procedure.

The three-hour surgery involved making an incision behind the right ear and placing the internal portion of the cochlear implant under the skin and into the inner ear. This internal device will help transmit processed sound from a speech processor, across the skin of the head and into the inner ear, where it will stimulate the appropriate nerves.

The speech processor, worn externally, detects environmental sounds/speech and sends a coded message across the skin of the head where a coil is located, to the appropriate electrodes in the cochlea.

The implant will not restore or create normal hearing for Kaitlin, but will give her a useful auditory understanding of her environment and help her to understand speech.

Staples from the incision were removed Thursday, Oct. 30.

"Kaitlin just sat patiently as the staples were taken out," said her mother, but the hard part was driving into town that evening and seeing the trick or treaters around town in costume.

A disappointment

"She was disappointed, but I just didn't think she was up to going out yet," her mother said. As they wait for the swelling to subside, they look forward to Wednesday, Nov. 19 when she returns to Iowa City to have the external and internal devices connected. That's when the sounds will come to life for her.

Her mom explained that certain tones she can't hear now will gradually build up after the connection.

The implant is expected to last a lifetime, but doctors told Kaitlin she does need to take precaution when participating in any contact sports. A blow to the head near the location of the implant could cause the devise to dislodge or malfunction. Protective headgear will enable her to remain active in sports, though.

Her mother said Kaitlin does very well academically despite her handicap.

"She has become an excellent reader and loves to draw. Her keen ability to read lips has helped her tremendously in the classroom," she said.

With the aid of the implant, Kaitlin will be able to focus more on her studies and less on trying to hear the words, making school easier for the third grader.

Kaitlin's teacher is Diane Nichols.

©The Ogden Reporter 2003