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February 1, 2004

Can My Baby Hear?: Part 2

From: KUAM-TV - Feb 1, 2004

by Fredalynn Mortera Hecita, KUAM News

At the Guam Memorial Hospital, nearly 2,500 newborn hearing screenings have been conducted over the past 15 months. Children learn speech and language from listening to other people talk. But for some children, that's not true.

Approximately 1-3 infants per 1,000 leave the hospital with some degree of hearing loss while 2 or 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf or hard-of-hearing. In most cases, parents are not aware of the problem until their child is of school age.

According to Guam Memorial Hospital nurse facilitator Bill Toves, newborns are now being screened for hearing loss through a recent grant awarded in March of 2002 to the Guam Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program. Toves says hearing is important for speech and language development. If hearing loss is found, intervention can be started right away and even with mild hearing loss it can significantly interfere with the reception of spoken language and education performance.

"Nationwide statistics wise for every 1,000 babies born they're finding out that there's two or three of those babies that have hearing impairment. So our goal here on guam is to identify those babies that do that are born here at the Guam Memorial Hospital, and the birthing center and at the naval hospital and put them through intervention and basically give them and identify those babies and give them a better quality of life," Toves said.

Currently screening is done voluntarily. Parents are encouraged to have their babies tested before they're discharged. GMH nurse unit supervisor Avelina Opena says screening is painless and is performed with a special hearing screening equipment called the otoacoustic emissions screening that uses sensitive microphones placed in the baby's ear canal. She explained, "We get the baby from the mom. The mom can come in. Mom and dad can come in and observe when we do the hearing test. But we have to tell them they have to be quiet cause its very important that when we do the hearing screening that it's a quiet and no noise, no movement around the baby or around the environment.

"And then we wrap the baby its better if we wrap the baby so because they are better when they are wrapped they are quiet down and go to sleep, which is better for the hearing procedure. And then we put the earpiece. We have the machine, which is not painful. It has a tip that we have to put in the baby's ear left and right. And then that's the time the machine will show the result on that machine. We put the ear piece in there through the ear and you know its a slight sound that goes into ear and it rebounds back that's the one that gives the result in the machine."

Research indicates that children with unilateral hearing loss are ten times as likely to be held back at least one grade compared to children with normal hearing. Even reports of children with slight to mild hearing loss indicate lower academic achievement in speech and development.

Guam's only neonatologist, Dr. Shikha Sarkar says early detection of hearing loss followed with proper intervention minimizes the need for extensive habilitation during the school years. "It's important to have the hearing screening done as soon as possible so we can intervene. Because if there's a problem with first screen we can do a definite of tests and then it would help with the development of speech in infants and it also can help in supporting them in terms of cochlear implants if its needed. And the sooner we do it the better is for the development as well as a more fulfilling life later," he said.

All infants identified with hearing loss will receive early intervention services before the age of 6 months. Services include audiology, communication training, and family support.

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