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Cochlear implants allow baby to hear mother's voice for the first time

By Shara Park  |  Posted Sep 13th, 2010 @ 10:15pm


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BOUNTIFUL -- Many parents revel in the moment when their child walks or talks for the first time, but an Ogden couple will never forget the moment when their 14-month-old son heard their voices for the first time.


Hearing loss is the most common birth defect In Utah, about 1 in every 300 babies is born with a permanent hearing loss. -Utah Dept. of Health

Mason Loe was diagnosed deaf at birth, but because of technology he is now on his way to a hearing future.

Like most children his age, Mason likes to play with brightly-colored toys that move and make sound. But when KSL News first visited him, Mason couldn't hear the toys or any other sound.

"A lot of it is you just think: How am I going to communicate with my son?" his mother, Deanna Loe, said.

A few days after his birth, Deanna and Brian Loe knew there was a possibility Mason was deaf. While at McKay-Dee Hospital, Mason failed his newborn hearing test. Being first-time parents, it was something the Loes never expected.

"It was a little bit for me to take in," Brian said. "I had difficult time with that."

Pediatric audiologist Kurt Randall diagnosed Mason as deaf at birth. Randall is the head of Utah's Early Hearing Detection and Intervention Program, a program implemented in all hospitals around the state in an effort to catch early hearing loss in newborns.

Newborn Hearing Screening
Its the law...
Approximately 95% of babies now receive a hearing screen shortly after birth and most states now have statutes in place related to universal newborn hearing screening. The Utah Legislature passed a bill in 1998 requiring newborns in hospitals with over 100 births per year to have a hearing screening prior to discharge. In 1999 all births (including home births) were required to have a hearing screen. -Utah Dept. of Health

"We want to have the baby screened before one month of age. We want to diagnose the hearing loss before three months, and then have them in an early-intervention program before six months," Randall explained.

Because of an early diagnosis, Mason was wearing hearing aids at 3 months old, but they didn't help much. His parents were also fully engaged in teaching him sign language so they could communicate with him.

Doctors then determined Mason qualified for cochlear implants -- hearing devices that are surgically implanted into the inner ear.

With the help of the implant, the Loes were told Mason would likely hear and have a good shot at a speaking future.

"We're thankful for modern technology, and we know the Lord has enlightened people to have these amazing gifts to be able to hear, and we want to take advantage of it to help Mason," Deanna said.

After the surgery on both ears, and a month of healing, 14-month-old Mason went to a Primary Children's hospital rehab center in Bountiful to have his implants turned on.

It's was an emotional day for the Loes because if the implants worked, it would be the first time Mason has ever heard his mother's voice.

"I'm excited for him to hear his name," Deanna said. "That is so cool to me."

"I'm very excited," Brian said, holding back tears.

After adjusting the outer portion of the implant, which was rigged with a little hat, and adjusting a few audio levels, Mason's right implant was turned on.

What is... a cochlear implant?
A cochlear implant is an implanted electronic hearing device, designed to produce useful hearing sensations to a person with severe to profound nerve deafness by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear. As of April 2009, approximately 188,000 people worldwide had received cochlear implants; in the U.S., about 30,000 adults and over 30,000 children are recipients. -U.S. Food and Drug Administration

What happened next was subtle. As Deanna began talking to her son, Mason turned toward her and dropped his bottle. Then he became a bit agitated. That's how audiologist Stacy Butler knew the implant was working and Mason was hearing clearly for the first time in his life.

"The fact that he turned and was reacting to sound in any way, shape or form, at this point in time, is beautiful success," Butler said.

And because Mason shifted his eyes at the sound of his mother's voice, Deanna knew the moment when her son heard his name for the first time. It's a moment she says she'll never forget.

"It's cool. It's such a blessing," Deanna managed to say through her tears. "Just a simple thing like when you want to sing your baby a lullaby, it's awesome he'll be able to hear."

Over time, the audio going into Mason's implants will need to be adjusted so that his hearing slowly progresses. By the time he enters kindergarten, with a little help from speech specialists, Butler says Mason should be hearing and speaking like many of the other kids his age.

E-mail: spark@ksl.com

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