Saturday, April 03, 2010

On the Cochlear Implant

I've talked before about my daughter, the Cute Deaf Baby Cute Deaf Toddler. Diagnosed with hearing loss at birth, she's profoundly deaf in her right ear and has been using a hearing aid in the left since she was three months old.

Our concern as parents has been that right ear--with no stimulation, there was no chance that it would ever be useful to her. We talked at one point about trying to aid it as well, but all of her audiograms said that wouldn't work. We asked about getting a cochlear implant on that ear, but the recommended procedure is to implant the better ear, because there's a higher chance of having success with the implant if the ear has had some stimulation. I understand the point, but that wasn't changing the fact that her right ear was quickly going past the point of no return.

The eventual winning argument we hit on had to do with her speech--she's still significantly delayed (like, 1st %ile delayed) in her expressive language, this with every intervention possible since she was born. We pivoted off of that into the thesis that because the hearing aid alone clearly wasn't enough to allow her to access language, then we had to do something more, and in this case something more was going to be the cochlear implant.

By gum, it worked. They refused the first request and made us appeal, which really put my wife on edge but seems like it's just part of the game any more, but early last month we took her to the Sacred Heart Hospital here in Spokane and had her surgery.

Her mom and I held it together pretty well, until they wheeled her back to the OR. By then she was loopy on medications and didn't notice her mom and I were teary-eyed, but I suppose that the fact that sending the kid off to be operated on isn't such a common occurance in my life that I take it for granted. The surgery itself took about an hour, at which point we got to go back to the recovery room and wait for her to come out of the anesthesia.

She woke up mean. The look that she shot her mother and I pretty much said it all: "You bastards did this to me, and you're going to be paying for it for some time to come." Her oxygen numbers weren't what they wanted them to be, so we had to stay a couple extra hours, but after checking in at 6:00 that morning we left the hospital at 6:30 that night, which is pretty amazing when you consider that she had just had cranial surgery.

That was just the implant, though--the piece that goes under her skin and stimulates the cochlea. After giving it about a month to heal we went to Spokane ENT where they gave us the external processor, which looks like it came right out of the Apple family of products. It also comes with a remote control and a suitcase full of equipment.

The piece we're working on now is to see if the implant is making a difference in her hearing. It's basically teaching her to use that ear, a process that we've already been through with her left ear and the hearing aid, so in some respects were taking a step backwards and working on listening skills that we had already covered years ago. If this works, though, she's have binaural (stereo) hearing and we should see an improvement in her oral language, which would be a great thing.

Parenting: it's a new adventure every day.

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Blogger The Science Goddess said...

Congratulations on getting the surgery done. I really hope that this will make a significant difference in your family's quality of life---in all sorts of ways.

I had a student a few years ago who had an implant like this. She, at 15, had more or less suddenly gone deaf over a summer---I can't remember if there was an accident or illness involved. It was such a shocking experience for her to have to figure out how to communicate and learn after being part of the hearing world until that point. But after a year, she chose to try the implant route. It turned out to be a great choice.

10:21 AM  
Blogger Matthew K. Tabor said...


I can't thank you enough for writing this. I'm sure it's difficult to write about such a personal topic, in such detail, but I really appreciate it as a reader and long-time subscriber. This post was moving; you didn't have to say how much you loved your daughter for it to come through. Despite any hurdles she might face, she's a very lucky girl to have been blessed with the parents she's got.

Keep us updated!

11:33 AM  

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