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March 9, 2006

10-Month-Old Receives Two Cochlear Implants at NYU Center

From: Columbia Journalist - New York City,NY,USA - Mar 9, 2006

By Kate Brumback

After spending all 10 months of his life in utter silence, Lawrence Goldfeld heard sound for the first time on Tuesday.

And it was terrifying.

Sitting in a highchair in a small examination room at NYU’s medical center, Lawrence, in a striped polo shirt and khaki pants, chewed contentedly on rubber building blocks. But his smile disappeared the minute his new hearing implants were activated. He began to scream and cry as he heard his first sounds, cooing by Rosemarie Drous, an educational coordinator at the center.

Lawrence, whose parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Russia in the early 1990s, has been completely deaf since he was born last year and was the youngest patient at New York University’s Cochlear Implant Center to have cochlear implants surgically placed in both of his ears. The implants were activated for the first time Tuesday and, gauging from his reaction, doctors said he could hear.

Yelena Goldfeld, Lawrence’s mother, dabbed her eyes with a tissue when she realized her son could hear for the first time. Though she looked happy, her brow furrowed and she reached out to pull him into her lap when he screamed. Her husband, Aleks, struggled to steady a hand-held video camera to capture every moment. From an adjacent observation room, Lawrence’s paternal grandmother, Nadezehda, sat in a chair with her hands clasped, her eyes occasionally watering but never leaving her cherubic grandson.

“So far, she said he did good,” Yelena Goldfeld said, clasping Drous’ hand after the initial hearing trials. “He can hear.”

William Shapiro, the supervising audiologist at the NYU medical center, said Lawrence’s reaction was a common one. Suddenly being able to hear can be scary for a young child who doesn’t understand what it is.

Lawrence’s mother credits hearing screening tests – mandatory in New York State within the first year since 1999 – with catching her son’s deafness. She stressed the need to publicize cochlear-implant surgery because too many people don’t hear about it until the affected child is older; that delays his or her development of auditory skills.

Bilateral cochlear implant procedures, which involve implants being placed and activated in both ears at the same time, are unusual. Generally, the weaker ear receives a cochlear implant while the stronger ear is fitted with a hearing aid. But Lawrence’s deafness is so profound – he can hear nothing even with powerful hearing aids – that his doctors and parents decided it was best to go ahead with both ears at once so he can start developing speech and hearing patterns as early as possible.

Unlike a hearing aid, which simply amplifies sound, a cochlear implant is meant to replace non-functioning parts of the inner ear. In a healthy ear, sound waves are converted in the inner ear into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain, where they are recognized as sound. The implant works electronically to find sounds and send them to the brain.

The implant is surgically placed into the skin behind the ear and is made up of four essential parts. The microphone receives sound from the wearer’s surroundings. The speech processor selects and arranges the sound. The transmitter and receiver/stimulator take the signals from the speech processor and convert them into electric impulses. And, finally, electrodes collect the impulses and send them to the brain.

In 2002, there were about 13,000 adults and nearly 10,000 children fitted with cochlear implants, according to FDA data. Most children who receive the implants get them between the ages of 2 and 6.

© 2006 The Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University