After birth, Lauren failed two newborn hearing screening examinations. Lauren’s mother, Heather, was initially comforted to learn that the vast majority of children who fail these screening tests do not have permanent hearing loss. However, the more in-depth hearing evaluation that followed revealed Lauren had profound hearing loss in her left ear and a mild loss in her right. Lauren’s hearing rapidly declined and by age six months, she was profoundly deaf in both ears. At that point, Heather grew concerned that hearing aids and the therapy her daughter was receiving would not be enough.
Heather learned about the cochlear implant, an electronic device that is surgically placed into the inner ear to electrically stimulate the nerve of hearing. This technology enables children like Lauren to hear the sounds including the soft high frequency sounds, like “s” and “f”, that are so important to making speech understandable. The hearing provided by an implant enables many deaf children to learn to talk clearly. The sooner a child has the opportunity to hear though a cochlear implant, the more likely age-appropriate speech and language will develop.
When Lauren’s mother sought out local Ear, Nose, and Throat physicians (ENTs) in Wisconsin who perform this type of ear surgery, she discovered that few had experience implanting infants. For this reason, Heather traveled to Chicago to meet with Dr. Nancy Young, who had implanted children as young as six months. Dr. Young is the founder and medical director of the Lurie Children’s Cochlear Implant Program, one of the largest programs in the United States.
Heather said she was impressed by Dr. Young’s honesty and thoroughness when discussing the risks and benefits associated with surgery. When considering a cochlear implant surgery for Lauren, who was only nine months old, Heather felt reassured that Dr. Young had already implanted younger infants. “Dr. Young’s experience and reputation were key parts in deciding on early cochlear implantation,” said Heather. While at Lurie Children’s, Lauren and Heather worked with a multidisciplinary team, including nurses, audiologists and speech and language pathologists who specialize in development of listening and spoken language.
By the age of three years, Lauren’s cochlear implant had enabled her to develop speech and language equivalent to hearing children her age. She was successfully mainstreamed with hearing classmates in kindergarten. Now, sixteen years old, Lauren participates on her high school’s cross-country and swimming teams. She can even hear while swimming, thanks to a waterproof speech processor. Lauren is also a part of her school’s mock trial team and plays the violin. “Lauren is one-hundred percent immersed in school, sports, activities, and friendships,” says Heather. “She’s a happy, healthy, and normal teenager.”
Dr. Young is delighted, but not surprised by Lauren’s success. “Children implanted during infancy make rapid progress,” said Dr. Young. “Lauren’s situation is not unique. The results of our recently published study in Otology and Neurotology on the safety and effectiveness of implantation of young children confirmed that infant implantation is advantageous and can be done safely.”
“The Lurie Children’s team was always on the leading edge,” says Heather. “In a word, ‘excellent’. The implant team made sure that we were educated and well prepared”. Heather also appreciated the convenience afforded by Lurie Children’s having several suburban locations for cochlear implant medical and audiology services. “Lurie Children’s is always proactive about doing the best for their patients,” she said.