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August 5, 2004

Cochlear implants turn up the sound for deaf children

East Valley Tribune, AZ - Aug 5, 2004

By Jennifer Ryan, Tribune

August 5, 2004 Sometimes Devin Urias tells her parents they're talking too loud — a remarkable comment, considering the 9-year-old is deaf.

Urias is one of a growing number of younger children receiving a cochlear implant, a hearing device that is profoundly changing what it means to be deaf.

"She received it in June of last year and they turned it on six weeks after that," said Jennie Urias, Devin's mother. "It was scary and exciting at the same time."

The Ahwatukee Foothills mother had mixed emotions that day because so many hearing aids had failed her daughter. Maybe the cochlear implant would be a failure, too, she thought.

One year later, Devin is saying new sentences and discovering the sounds of an airplane overhead or bugs buzzing at night.

"It took a year, but it's amazing what she's learning," Urias said. "She's always wanted to use her voice, and that's what always made her a good candidate."

Advances in cochlear implant technology are giving more children the opportunity to receive the device and receive it earlier, said Michael Sabo, a senior audiologist at Phoenix Children's Hospital. A decade ago, the minimum age for a cochlear implant was 2. Today, children as young as 1 are being implanted.

"Some of us would say it's the only way to go for deaf children," said Sabo, whose hospital has implanted the device in more than 100 children. "I believe what we're doing is giving children access to sound in a way that no hearing aid can give them."

About one of every 1,000 children is born deaf, and as many as five of every 1,000 are born with some degree of hearing loss, Sabo said. Those with severe hearing loss can benefit from a cochlear implant, also. To qualify, candidates need to have a cochlea, or inner ear, and an intact nerve. They also need to meet certain thresholds for hearing loss.

Getting the implant costs about $75,000, said Christine Santana, cochlear implant coordinator at Phoenix Children's Hospital. About 75 percent of children receiving the device at the hospital have the cost covered by the state's Medicaid program as enrollees of the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System.

The sooner a child can get a cochlear implant, the better, Sabo said. Children implanted very young have more time to develop their hearing and language skills.

"Our hope is that children enter school with a minimal amount of resources (needed)," he said. "Barring other types of handicap conditions, children should be able to function very well."

The Urias family waited four years for Devin to qualify for a cochlear implant, as medical authorities tested her to make sure her hearing would not improve naturally.

"It's very, very frustrating," Urias said. "It was a long four years."

Mayo Clinic Scottsdale and the private practice of Dr. Michael Fucci in Gilbert also offer cochlear implants. At Phoenix Children's Hospital, about 24 children are in the process of getting implants. Many more families may not know that a cochlear implant could help their deaf or severely hearing impaired child, Sabo said.

Devin's dream to hear and speak confidently is coming true.

"She was to the point she was getting angry to where she would say 'Devin's not like so-and-so,' or 'Devin's ears are broken,' " Urias said. "She doesn't do that anymore."

Learn more For more information about the cochlear implant program at Phoenix Children's Hospital, call (602) 546-0858.

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