They share the same red hair and fair skin. And if you look close, you’ll see evidence that siblings Brooke and Evan share another, hidden trait. Those devices tucked inside their ears aren’t iPods®. They are bridges to a world of sound, provided by a team of All Children’s experts.
It wasn’t until shortly after Evan was born in June of 2006 that their family knew anything was amiss. Evan failed his newborn hearing screening at Brandon Hospital. More detailed testing at All Children’s Specialty Care of Tampa when Evan was two months old showed a profound hearing loss.
“Since we knew of no history of this in our families,” mom Joyce explains, “the audiologist recommended we have our other kids tested to see if it was a one-time problem.”
Big brother Tyler, then ten years old, went first. “It was over in about five minutes,” mom recalls. “But when Brooke went in the booth, they had to keep repeating. It was taking 35 minutes and I was thinking—oh my goodness.”
Big sister Brooke, then seven years old, was diagnosed with mild to moderate hearing loss in both ears.
“We were shocked. She’d made it through first grade without anyone ever saying anything about her hearing. Of course, in hindsight, we remember thinking—wow, she really did like the TV turned up loud.”
Still, mom says Brooke was actually excited because she was going to have hearing aids like Evan, fitted by the same All Children’s team. In Evan’s case, those hearing aids were only a temporary help. His hearing loss was so severe that a cochlear implant soon became an option.
Cochlear implants don’t restore hearing. They offer an alternative way of transmitting sound information to the brain through a system of devices; some surgically implanted under the skin, others worn externally. Sound is picked up by a tiny microphone worn near the ear. Wires carry the sound information to a plastic “button” little more than an inch in diameter. It’s magnetically held in place on the scalp directly over an implanted receiver. This “button” is a speech processor that converts the sound into electrical signals which are transmitted to the surgically implanted receiver. The receiver then sends the signal through an array of wires into the inner ear, where the electrical impulses are transmitted to the brain.
“I’d heard the term ‘cochlear implant’ but I didn’t really know what it was,” mom says. “I did not realize there were any internal parts. Of course when they mentioned it, my husband Patrick was all for it right away. I was the one thinking—‘oh, let’s wait until he’s older and then he can decide’—not knowing that the sooner that he got them, the better it would be.”
Without the implant, the auditory-based care that Evan was already receiving close to his Valrico home at All Children’s Specialty Care of Brandon could only go so far in helping him learn to speak fluently. So in May of 2007, ten-month old Evan became the youngest All Children’s patient to date to undergo cochlear implant surgery performed by Pediatric Otolaryngologist Dr. Peter Orobello.
Evan sailed through the surgery. Turning on the external portions of the device after several weeks of healing was another story, one Audiologist Shelly Dolan- Ash—who serves as the Cochlear Implant Team Coordinator—knows all too well.
“I was very grateful that Shelly had warned me beforehand that he would cry and be very clingy,” says mom. “They explained that it’s like he’s standing outside of a concert hall, and then opening the doors to music playing very loudly. So of course, right when they turned it on, he screamed. But it lasted all of ten minutes, and then he was smiling and enjoying it.”
Especially, mom says, when he got home to familiar toys with all the usual lights, bells and whistles. “When we put those toys out, you should have seen the look on his face the first time he realized—wow! It does other stuff than light up! That was wonderful! We noticed such a difference with the first implant that we wanted him to have a second one.”
Last July, Evan became one of the youngest patients at All Children’s Hospital to receive a second cochlear implant, this one for his left ear. His parents have already noticed that Evan has a much easier time figuring out where sound is coming from throughout their home. And mom says there’s a lot more to listen to these days.
“My other two kids are already loud. And when they start talking, then Evan really vocalizes. He LOVES to hear his voice. We have a feeling once he starts talking, he’ll never stop…which will be a blessing.
“Thank goodness All Children’s was able to help him with the implants.”
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