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December 5, 2004

Calcutta boy to receive second cochlear implant

From: East Liverpool Review - Liverpool, OH - Dec 5, 2004

By VIRGINIA McKENZIE, Review Staff Writer

CALCUTTA - On the surface, Marcus McClellan is an average 9-year-old boy - one who loves video games and dreams of being a professional football player. Marcus is far from average, however. On Dec. 27, he will be one of five Americans to receive a bilateral cochlear implant.

Three years ago, Marcus underwent surgery to install a cochlear implant in his right ear. At the time, he was completely deaf, and the implant enabled Marcus to hear again out of his right ear.

Many deaf Americans receive a second cochlear implant, but it is usually because the first implant did not work well. What makes Marcus unique is that he is getting a second implant in the hopes of restoring hearing to both of his ears.

Nine years ago, Marcus was born premature and spent his first days in intensive care. Unfortunately, antibiotics that are administered to premature infants can potentially cause nerve damage. As a result, Marcus began wearing hearing aids at the tender age of four months.

Paula, Marcus' mother, recalled that keeping hearing aids on an otherwise healthy infant was difficult.

"As a baby, he would just take them off. We went through a lot of them - one time I ran over one in the driveway," said Paula with a smile.

Despite doctor's best efforts, Marcus' hearing was completely gone when he was five.

"He couldn't communicate; he couldn't sign - he was lost," recalled Paula, an early intervention specialist at Robert Bycroft School.

Paula discovered that Marcus was a good candidate for a cochlear implant because her son was verbal, and he had heard sound before.

"That part of his brain was developed," Paula said.

The family waited four months for the first implant. The cochlear implant is man-made hearing. Surgeons drill into the skull and install a magnet. The outer component has a magnet as well, which allows the device to adhere to the head. The device has a computerized technology that picks up sound.

The device can easily be taken on and off, and the wearer hears sounds a millisecond later than natural hearing. Marcus takes it off when he sleeps or plays - any activity that causes him to sweat. Marcus has been known to take off the implant when he wants to tune out from the hearing world or his mother.

The implant costs a large amount of money. Fortunately insurance covers the costs of the procedure. Paula McClellan, however, still faces the expenses of upkeep and therapy.

The decision to go ahead with a second implant was not an easy one for Paula.

"I'm more nervous this second time around," confessed Paula. "I think to myself, should I count my blessings? Or should I push for this?"

Because Marcus' ears will no longer be virgin, he may not be a candidate for future technology.

"Do you sit back and wait for the future?" questioned Paula. "Nobody has a crystal ball to see the future. It could take 10, 20 years. Still, I worry that he will regret this as an adult," she said.

Despite her fears, Paula said, "I owe it to him."

Paula said there are numerous reasons for Marcus to have a second implant. Marcus is still deaf in one ear and has difficulty hearing when there is background noise.

He also struggles talking on the phone, because of feedback.

"He misses a lot of the conversation," Paula said.

Marcus also has trouble in the language arts and difficulty distinguishing certain words.

Marcus put it simply, "I want to hear on both sides."

When asked about having surgery, Marcus replied, "I'm not scared."

Paula pointed out, "He's a fighter. He was off to a rough start. This was a child who we were told would never talk."

Mother and son worked hard together to bring Marcus to where he is today. According to Paula, Marcus has been hospitalized 19 times and has gone to speech therapy for nine years at five times a week. To enable speech therapy, Paula had to work the midnight shift at work.

Paula acknowledged her 10-year-old daughter Olivia for being a real trooper.

Initially, Marcus went to a hearing school and school for special needs. For the past three years, Marcus has been a student of Calcutta Elementary. Teachers wear a special microphone to ensure that Marcus can hear without distraction.

The surgery will take five hours and will be done at Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital in Cleveland. The implant will be turned on in one month following surgery. It will also require biweekly visits for programming and mapping of the device.

When asked if she had advice for parents and children struggling with hearing loss, Paula said, "Trust your instincts. Get second opinions. If you find out there is hearing loss - get aggressive. Go to speech therapy."

"I always pushed Marcus to use his voice. Just pointing to an object wouldn't cut it. Remember, you are your child's best advocate."

Copyright 2002 - The Review