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July 25, 2005

Child no longer deaf to the world

From: Tri-Valley Herald, CA - Jul 25, 2005

Implant transforms life of now-23-month-old girl who even a hearing aid couldn't help

By Sajid Farooq, STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area

SAN RAMON — Ten years ago Charmane Howard watched a documentary on the Discovery Channel about a deaf boy and his ear implant that always stuck with her. "I didn't know what it was at the time," she said. "But, I always remembered that."

Nine years later the mother of two would never forget the name of that implant.

Charmane's 23-month-old daughter, Liberty, was born with profound hearing loss in one of her ears. Like the boy featured on the Discovery Channel program, Liberty had a cochlear implant placed in her ear last year in the hope of giving her a chance at a normal life.

The surgery usually is performed on children and adults with severe hearing loss who cannot hear even with the help ofa hearing aid. The surgery was performed first in the late 1970s, according to Dr. Katrina Stidham, who operated on Liberty at the San Ramon Regional Medical Center.

If a child is deaf from birth, its very important to discover this early, Stidham said. What we know is if we implant at an early age, we can be successful. Its not a situation that you put it in and everything works.

The implant, which is inserted into the cochlea in the inner ear, works by picking up electrical energy transmitted by an external processor. Liberty wears the processor on her waist, and the signal is picked up through both an external and internal magnet around Libertys ear. The implant then transmits the energy to the inner ear so she can make out sounds.

It took about four weeks after the procedure for Liberty to be able to hear and six months for her to come out of her shell, according to her mother.

I look back at pictures, (and) she was stone-faced, Charmane said. Now shes always giggling. She just lights up a room when she walks in.

But before she could open up to the outside world, Liberty had to learn how to use her new implant. Since the surgery, her mother has driven her twice a week from their Hayward home to San Mateo to attend special 45-minute sessions at the Jean Weingarten Peninsula Oral School for the Deaf. With the help of the school, Liberty has developed a vocabulary of 70 words, which is considered good for someone her age.

Theres a very closed-off world when theyre deaf, Stidham said. If she didnt have the implant, she wouldnt be able to make even a noise.

A year after the surgery — Thursday was the anniversary — Liberty is the center of attention wherever she goes, eagerly playing with people she has just met. She has an infectious smile that helps her get toys away from her 4-year-old brother, Carl. Charmane said people always tell her that Liberty should be in commercials.

Both Stidham and Charmane are not sure what caused the newborn to lose hearing in one ear. But they have their theories. Charmane blames a virus, called cytomegalovirus, commonly carried by adults, and by pregnant women in particular. While she was pregnant, Charmane said she had flulike symptoms and she was diagnosed with chickenpox, which is from the same viral family as cytomegalovirus, for the second time in her life. Stidham said the virus can cause deafness and even blindness.

Despite the virus, Libertys story is a happy one. When she is old enough, Liberty is expected to be able to attend normal schools and have normal speech and language skills. Stidham said Liberty will have to tell people about the implant for them to notice.

For her family, the implant is something they are always aware of.

Its constant, 24 hours, Charmane said. Every toy you pick up and everything you do revolves around how you benefit her. Its definitely a full-time job as a parent.

Sajid Farooq covers San Ramon for the Herald. He can be reached at (925) 416-4813 or sfarooq@angnewspapers.com.

© 2005 ANG Newspapers