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May 17, 2007

Smiles as surgery promises chance for child's hearing

From:, New Zealand - May 17, 2007


Three-year-old Jorja Steele emerged groggy but smiling from a high risk operation yesterday that promises to restore her hearing.

"It went very smoothly," said mum Megan Steele. "There were no complications or unexpected hiccups."

The Christchurch youngster, deaf since contracting meningitis two years ago, became the first Australasian to have an auditory brain stem implant.

During the surgery – at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne – a prosthetic device was implanted near the nerve centre at the base of Jorja's brain. When switched on, it should allow her to interpret sound received from an external hearing aid.

Steele said all indications were that the surgery was successful, but the family would not know for sure until July when the implant was switched on.

Jorja would remain in hospital for the next four days.

She would return to New Zealand in another two weeks when the window for complications had closed.

Steele said she and husband Jack planned to give Jorja a good spoiling.

"She's been through a lot," said Steele.

When Jorja roused from surgery, Steele said her daughter signed to them, then asked for a drink and cuddle. "It looks really promising," she said.

During the surgery, doctors tested the device on a limited to scale and it appeared to work.

Steele believed Jorja's understanding of the operation was limited due to her rudimentary sign language vocabulary and developmental delays caused by the hearing loss.

Still, she was optimistic Jorja would quickly get up to speed.

The surgery opens enormous potential for the treatment of conditions such as blindness and spinal damage, according to neurosurgeons.

"The first step in using this technology is hearing, the next step on from that is sight and the next step after that is for spinal cord stimulation ... advances in medicine are incremental and this is an enormous increment," said Professor Andrew Kaye, director of neurosurgery at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, who implanted the device.

"In this situation the hearing nerve wasn't working so we're bypassing all of that and plugging directly into the brain. The technology could be applied to other sensations that the body adapts to from the external environment such as sight ... there's enormous potential."

© Fairfax New Zealand Limited 2007.