IM this article to a friend!

May 22, 2007

Doubling a baby’s chances of someday hearing sound

From: - Halifax,Nova Scotia,Canada - May 22, 2007

Couple want their 9-month-old girl to have two cochlear implants, not one


Taking in the melodies of your favourite piece of music, chatting on the phone with a loved one, or picking out the voice of a friend in a crowded bar are everyday activities carried out by the average person without a thought.

For the deaf or hard of hearing, the simplest things can be next to impossible.

Allison and Mark Savoury’s excitement for the birth of their daughter Teaghan was painfully interrupted when the hospital told them she couldn’t hear.

"There’s a mourning period you go through," said Ms. Savoury, who lives in Elmsdale with her family.

"It was almost like someone died."

"We were in shock," added her husband.

"She’s our first baby. Everything was new to us, so this was an extra unexpected thing."

Thanks to a device called a cochlear implant, communicating with the rest of the world has been made easier for those with severe to profound hearing loss.

Teaghan, now nine months old, is likely to receive her first implant this summer. But the Savourys say one is not enough.

"We’re very grateful for the technology and we thought if kids can do so well with one implant, then with two, the sky’s the limit," said Ms. Savoury. "We have two ears for a reason."

The device is surgically implanted into the ear to provide hearing sensation. It doesn’t restore hearing to normal but gives people the ability for sound awareness and perception.

The implant is irreversible.

Medicare only covers the cost of one implant — about $30,000. The Savourys want Canada to follow the trend of the United States and Europe, where they say bilateral implants are commonplace, and Newfoundland and Labrador and Saskatchewan, which fund bilateral implants on a case-by-case basis.

Rod Forsey’s nine-year-old daughter Rachel was the first to receive bilateral implants in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Forsey said he first started considering bilateral implants when he heard overwhelming positive feedback from patients who had had the surgery. She heard the feedback at the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Conference, held every two years in the United States.

Mr. Forsey said although Rachel was able to communicate with one implant, she had trouble with her speech and localizing sound.

"Her mother would be calling her from downstairs and she would hear it but not answer loudly enough, thinking her mother was on the same floor," he said.

"Only having one side working creates that situation."

Mr. Forsey said his daughter just received her second implant in December, but he can already notice the improvement.

"It’s still early, but I would already say it’s successful. She just needs time and practice. It’s a process."

His 14-year-old son Graham was also born with a hearing disability. He only has one implant and Mr. Forsey said it’s too late for him to get another.

"He hasn’t heard on that side for 14 years. He won’t get the same benefit from it."

Rachel is in the regular school system, while Graham attends a school for the deaf.

"He can put together simple, straightforward phrases but can’t converse like my daughter or you and I can. That’s why I’m very confident that kids should get two simultaneously and as early as possible."

The Savourys say they are fighting against time because they want their daughter to enjoy the full benefits of early bilateral implants as well as have the security of a second implant in case one fails.

"With one implant," said Ms.avoury, "the child heavily relies on it and if something goes wrong, she will be without sound until another surgery, which is a minimum of two months.

"If you want two implants because you think it’s best for your child, government health care should provide it," said Mr. Savoury.

A Health Department spokeswoman said the department appreciates people bringing forward recommendations, but there isn’t enough money for all requests.

"We review them and we have to make difficult choices as to where the money will go. All recommendations have to be weighed against other programs. We take a fresh look every year. It’s just not always possible to fund all the programs we want."

She said over the past two years, funding was increased by almost

$1 million, with an emphasis on the screening of newborns for impairments like hearing loss.

"We are trying to help children," she said.

Besides a shortage in funds, there is also a lack of research to support bilateral surgery, said Greg Noel, vice-president and director of audiology at the Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centres. He said it depends on each case, but usually the earlier a patient receives an implant, the more beneficial it will be, but so far there is no national standard for cochlear implant surgery.

"Research has shown that people with two implants do receive communication benefits, but there’s still more work that needs to be done to ensure that bilateral surgery is justified. We’re very proud of the program here and look forward to its continued success."

A national meeting will be held in 2007 to script a statement outlining important steps for providing bilateral implants, he said.

The Nova Scotia Hearing and Speech Centres began running the cochlear implant program in 2001. Since its inception, over 150 Nova Scotians have received implants.

The Savourys said there are over 4,000 people with bilateral implants worldwide and half are children.

"Our little daughter, we love her and we’re proud of her," said Mr. Savoury. "We just want to see the best for her."


© 2007 The Halifax Herald Limited