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July 26, 2005

The hi-tech op which could let Sophie, 2, hear again

From: Glasgow Evening Times, UK - Jul 26, 2005

A TODDLER who was left deaf after suffering a rare form of meningitis could regain her hearing with the help of hi-tech ear surgery.

Brave two-year-old Sophie Vernett was diagnosed with the life-threatening illness when she was just 11 months old and has since been unable to hear her parents' voices or her favourite cartoons Winnie the Pooh and Noddy.

But next week, Sophie will visit Crosshouse Hospital in Kilmarnock for an audiology assessment to determine whether she is a suitable case for cochlear implants.

Her parents Laura, 32, and Graham, 37, from near Strathblane, are praying the procedure gets the go-ahead and allows their only child, who became ill 18 months ago, to develop proper speech.

Laura, marketing director of Glasgow solicitors Harper Macleod, said: "It all happened very quickly.

"One morning she was normal but the next day she was vacant and a horrible grey colour. She was limp, but had no rash, so at that stage we thought it could be nothing like meningitis."

Little Sophie was referred to Yorkhill by the family GP.

A lumbar puncture confirmed she was suffering pneumococcal meningitis - which affects just 650 babies in the UK a year and has a higher fatality rate than the meningicoccal form.

One in five babies who contract the disease, which causes inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord, die from it.

Laura said: "The next 24 hours were critical and an intensive care consultant said we'd know after that which way she was going to go.

"Fortunately, she did not need to be in intensive care and was taken to a ward. For the first three days she was in a lot of pain.

"She spent two weeks in Yorkhill then, on her first birthday, she had a seizure at home and was in hospital for another week.

"Doctors said it was highly unlikely it was connected.

"Sophie's deafness did not show up right away, but throughout last year we knew she had a hearing problem which was getting worse."

Since being diagnosed profoundly deaf in February, Sophie has been wearing hearing aids and communicates through basic sign language and lip-reading.

Fortunately her ordeal has not had any impact on Sophie's cheeky character.

Laura added: "She such a happy wee thing. She is able to communicate and lip-reads automatically and I have started sign language classes.

"I always talk to her anyway. She can't talk back but she can make sounds - that's where the cochlear implants would come in.

"She has her final audiology assessment with the national cochlear team next week. We are very keen to go ahead with the implants as she has had no benefit from hearing aids.

"It would be life-changing. This will be the best chance we can give her. We should know in the next month if it's going to happen."

If Sophie is given the approval she will undergo a five-hour operation to have the implants fitted.

Tiny electrodes are installed inside the skull with a corresponding small external receiver above her ear.

Since Sophie's battle with meningitis, Laura has begun fundraising for the Meningitis Trust.

The charity regularly organises special events to boost funds. Laura is currently organising a sponsored zip slide across the Clyde from the Finnieston Crane to be held on September 18.

Anyone interested in taking part should call the Meningitis Trust on 0845 120 2123 or visit website www.

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