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April 26, 2004

Izaac breaks sound barrier

From: The West Australian - Perth,Western Australia,Australia - Apr 26, 2004


Eight months after he was born, Izaac Coubrough heard the sound of his own voice for the first time.

His cochlear implant was "switched on" giving him the key to a world he has not experienced.

Izaac is the youngest child in WA to have an implant.

His profound deafness was diagnosed at six weeks when his mother took him for a hearing screening test at Woodside Hospital in East Fremantle.

These tests will stop at the end of the month after the State Government cut funding for the newborn hearing screening program. It said the $300,000 to run the program would be better spent elsewhere.

But the early intervention has given Izaac the chance to integrate with his hearing peers.

Princess Margaret Hospital audiology department head Jay Krishnaswamy said the outcome of how well Izaac would take to the cochlear implant was still not clear, but with time and habilitation he should take strides and catch up with his peers.

"Early intervention is critical in terms of speech and language development," he said. "The sooner the child is provided with access to sound information can only facilitate better speech and hearing."

A cochlear implant electronically stimulates the hearing nerve of the cochlea or inner ear and is designed to allow people with severe to profound hearing loss to hear.

A speech processor filters, analyses and digitises sound into coded signals which are sent to the implant under the skin. The implant then delivers electrical energy to the electrode array in the cochlea which stimulates undamaged nerve fibres in the cochlea which send impulses to the brain for interpretation.

Last week when Mr Krishnaswamy turned on Izaac's implant he set the electrical parameters needed to detect and correlate sound, but understanding speech was still some way off.

"The sound through the implant would sound different from what you or I would hear," he said.

"There needs to be some kind of rehabilitation to train the child the concept of listening to the sound.

"Only through long and intensive rehabilitation these (sounds) delivered through the implant can be detected as more meaningful."

When Izaac heard sounds he became still and quiet.

"Because his own vocalisation sounded so strange he was quite overwhelmed and he became quiet," Mr Krishnaswamy said.

"That is an indication that he is getting some feedback from his own vocalisation." Rachel Coubrough said it was an emotional experience for her and husband James when they saw their son hear for the first time.

"We know he has a really good chance now," she said.

"I just keep thinking he is such a lucky little boy. He has so many wonderful people looking after him and the world is his oyster if we can get him to speaking.

He will have so many more opportunities than what he would have had if he hadn't been diagnosed."

Mrs Coubrough said it was sad other newborns without a family history of deafness would not have a chance of early diagnosis and intervention.

Izaac will continue regular visits to PMH and also attend the Speech and Hearing Centre for lessons and attend a playgroup with children of his own age who have hearing loss.

© 2004 West Australian Newspapers Limited All Rights Reserved.