IM this article to a friend!

November 8, 2004

Turning a deaf ear

From: San Mateo Daily Journal - San Mateo,CA,USA - Nov 8, 2004

By Lou Sian
Daily Journal correspondent

Danny Twomey's parents suspected something was wrong when he was 9 months old.

He was inconsolable and wouldn't bond with his parents. Living near Dublin, Ireland, a government nurse said Danny could have a hearing problem. He could have other childhood ailments as well.

Danny's parents didn't wait for a medication trial and error approach of treating Danny. They took him to a deaf school. By then, Danny was 12 months old and a specialist told them he was profoundly deaf in both ears. They were stunned. Twomey's oldest son, John Joe, 4, can hear.

"Initially, we were shocked and upset," said Michael Twomey, Danny's father. "We had no experience with this and we didn't expect it."

Once the Twomey's learned of Danny's deafness, the time between doctor's appointments in Ireland's health care system became interminably long. Fortunately, Danny's mother got a job offer in the high-tech industry in the Bay Area, one of the nation's leading center for cochlear implants.

Danny was 15 months old when his family uprooted from their homeland and moved to Santa Clara County. The brothers were enrolled at the Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf in Redwood City. Both deaf and hearing children from infants to 8 years old attend before they can be sent to neighborhood schools.

Last May, Danny received his first cochlear implant and is in a holding pattern for the second one. About a month after the surgery, an audiologist turned on the amplification device and used mapping software to customize Danny's sound thresholds. A tiny microprocessor in a portable pack about the size of a juice box is clipped to the waistband of his pants.

"Since he's been activated, he's more affectionate and relating better to the family. He hugs and kisses more," Twomey said, "He reacts to his name ... the name we've been calling him all his life."

Early intervention is important. Danny's hearing loss was identified relatively early because of the Twomeys' persistence.

The younger the child receives an implant, the better he or she functions, said Dr. Joe Roberson, chief executive officer of the California Ear Institute in Palo Alto and a director at Jean Weingarten.

Important neural structures in the brain begin to form the sooner a child receives appropriate amplification. Through the first 10 years of a child's life, hearing stimulates brain development. The first three years are especially formative.

The cochlear implants won't allow speech and language in a 15 year old, for example, if the child never heard sound. With the device, the child may be aware of the sound, but she may not be able to process the information.

Roberson is optimistic. Within the next two years, infants as young as 6 months will receive cochlear implants, he said. Recent federal legislation requires infant hearing screening to identify deaf children at birth. Overall hearing loss is the most common birth defect, about 4 per 1000 births, Roberson said.

"The savings to society is a staggering $1.7 million per deaf child in social services and loss of income," Roberson said. "And the technology for the screens is simple, inexpensive and cost effective. It costs less than $30 per child."

After the implant and auditory mapping, recovering hearing in children requires cognitive training in which the auditory and visual centers of the brain are stimulated. At Jean Weingarten, children are taught to listen, think and talk through constant questions and answers between teachers and students.

"Their cognitive skills are not affected by their deafness. They need language to express what they already know," said Mary Ruth Leen, coordinator for the Leahea Grammatico Family Center Home, a toddler program located on the Jean Weingarten property. "The kids generate their own ideas and questions. We give them the language."

Jean Weingarten is an accredited school staffed by credentialed teachers. The math and English curriculum is aligned with the California state standards. They work closely with the school district in getting children into mainstream schools.

"Developmentally in speech, Danny is behind children his age, but he'll be up to speed by the time he's 5," Twomey said. "If this had happened 20 years ago, he would have had a different life. I count my blessings."

Box info:


The Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf will hold its annual benefit, Talk of the Town, Our Broadway Babes Nov. 13 at 5:30 p.m. For more information call 365-7500.

© 2004 San Mateo Daily Journal