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June 29, 2005

Hearing is believing for brave young pioneer

From: Brisbane Courier Mail, Australia - Jun 29, 2005

Jeff Sommerfeld, health reporter

BUBBLY William Taylor is the state's latest medical pioneer at the tender age of 18 months, becoming the first Queensland child to receive a new type of cochlear implant set to revolutionise hearing aids.

Although a number of refinements have been added to enhance cochlear implants in the 27 years since they were first developed, little William's implant has a number of new features that will greatly improve outcomes for the hearing-impaired. It has been only two weeks since his implant was switched on, and his mother Hanne Taylor said the difference had been "amazing".

"He's now starting to say a few words, like 'mmmmm' for mum," a delighted Ms Taylor said yesterday.

"We've noticed him responding to loud noises, looking around when we come into the room, and we hope he'll soon start responding to his own name for the first time."

And his grin when a brand new sound catches his attention is something to behold.

William is one of seven children and 21 adults able to benefit each year from cochlear implants performed at Brisbane's Mater Hospital audiology clinic.

Audiology department director Lee Kethel said the main advantage of the new implant was that it had a digital processor and four microphones, unlike the old implants with one microphone.

"It uses digital technology to cancel out background noise, which is a huge problem for the hearing impaired," Ms Kethel said.

Although William's hearing impairment was not discovered until he was 10 months old, Ms Kethel said a new screening program would mean every baby would be checked for hearing problems before leaving hospital.

That in turn could have a lifelong impact for those who are picked up by the program as having hearing impairment.

She said early detection could mean implants in place before a child turned one year old, increasing their chances of developing speech and language skills and eventually going to mainstream schools.

Like any new technology, the implant is not cheap, at $25,000, and upgrades can cost adults between $5000 and $10,000. Upgrades for children were paid for by the Federal Government, Ms Kethel said.

A donation yesterday of $23,500 by local IT company Data#3 to the audiology department will allow it to equip two new soundproof booths, shortening the waiting times for testing children and improving early intervention.

© Queensland Newspapers