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June 30, 2005

Deaf tot hears parents for first time

From: Los Angeles Daily News, CA - Jun 30, 2005

By Dana Bartholomew, Staff Writer

Ever since their son was born nearly deaf 19 months ago, Chris and Christina Edwards have yearned that he hear them whisper his Hungarian name, which sounds like "Casey." On Wednesday, the couple witnessed a medical miracle of sorts when UCLA audiologists filled Kcezi's head with sound.

For the Cupid-like boy with curly long hair, the Alexander Bell moment came as he sat on his parents' knees while a UCLA audiologist hooked up a cochlear implant and slowly turned up the volume.

First Kcezi smiled. Then he looked around in disbelief. He let out a long, mournful sob. And then he looked at his mom.

"Honey, this is Mommy," said Christina Edwards, 36, of West Hills, drawing her son's face to her bosom. "Kcezi, Kcezi!"

"It's wonderful," she said, tears running down her face. "This is the best thing that has happened. When I called his name, he looked at me. ... He's meant to be a hearing child."

Christina Edwards, a native of Hungary, said she always worried that her son would not be normal. "But I was convinced something would happen -- that a miracle would happen."

Three weeks earlier, a surgeon at UCLA Medical Center implanted a complex hearing aid into Kcezi's right ear.

The $27,000 cochlear implant converts sound waves into electrical impulses within the toddler's brain using a speech processor and transmitter affixed to his outer ear and electrodes planted inside the snail-like cochlea, in his inner ear.

For Christina Edwards, the owner of a Hancock Park beauty salon, the procedure has strengthened her dreams of one day hearing her son say "Mommy."

For her husband, Chris, a bassist in a heavy metal rock band, it means Kcezi might one day hear him play. Chris Edwards proudly points out that Kcezi's favorite pastime has been sitting by his dad, clutching his guitar, and "feeling" his vibes.

"I would like him to hear me play something," said Chris Edwards, 31. "Someday, I would love him to play an instrument ... That would be a miracle in itself."

Though Kcezi attends deaf-support classes at the Infant Family Support Center in Tarzana, the Edwardses hope he will learn to speak after intensive therapy.

But while educators have praised the implant's ability to help to "mainstream" hearing-impaired kids into hearing classrooms, some in the deaf community see the devices as overrated.

Many have also called them an affront to a deaf culture that does perfectly well with American Sign Language.

For without ASL, said Lawrence Fleischer, a professor of deaf studies at California State University, Northridge, even deaf kids with cochlear implants will turn out "languageless."

"To me, cochlear implant is like buying an expensive car that moves only 10 mph at best," Fleischer, who is deaf, wrote via e-mail. "We will see more deaf children with cochlear implants miseducated."

UCLA audiologist Stanton Jones disagreed.

While not "natural," he said, the implants enable 40 patients a year at UCLA's Head and Neck Surgery Clinic to hear a mother's whisper, the sounds of birds, breaking waves, the wind in the trees.

"It sounds kind of robotic," Jones said. "But the good news is it allows you to hear things that you couldn't even with the most powerful hearing aids."

Dana Bartholomew, (818) 713-3730

Copyright © 2005 Los Angeles Newspaper Group