Approximately 3 to 6 in 1 000 children are born with some form of hearing impairment. This is the most common of the sensory deficits occurring in newborns. Approximately 1 in 1 000 children are born with profound hearing impairment.
According to Medline Plus, the world’s largest medical library, and a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some infants may have some hearing loss at birth, although it is not common. Hearing loss can also develop in children who had no problems with their hearing at birth. It can occur in one or both ears, and can be mild, moderate or profound. Profound hearing loss is what most people refer to as deafness.
South African toddler born with hearing impairment
18-month-old Grayson Marais from Port Elizabeth is one of the 1 in 1 000 children who was born with profound hearing impairment. According to Dr Iain Butler, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist at Netcare Greenacres Hospital in Port Elizabeth, ordinary hearing aids would not have been a solution for Grayson’s hearing impairment. “The early implantation of a cochlear device is important for children such as Grayson, as it enables them to become familiar with sound as early as possible and to develop their speech and communication skills from an early age.”
A cochlear implant is only the first step
The implantation of the cochlear device in a child born as profoundly deaf as Grayson, is only the first step on the road to recovery. “Intensive follow-up speech and listening therapies in the years after the implant are also critically important in their journey to hearing and speaking. Where this can be facilitated, the device enables the child’s development to follow a normal development trajectory and is positively life-changing,” says Dr Butler.
He explains that the external ‘microphone’ part of the cochlear device picks up signals from the environment. The implant then sends the signals directly to the auditory nerve in the ear and to the brain, which comes to recognise the signal as sound. In this way, the complex cochlear implant technology is able to bypass the damaged areas of the ear.
Grayson hears for the first time on 19 November 2019
Grayson’s cochlear device was turned on for the first time at Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital on 19 November. “We are hopeful that with the necessary speech and listening therapies, he will go on to hear and to be able to speak normally. My colleagues and I were thrilled to have been able to assist this delightful little boy, who always has a big smile on his face,” says Dr Butler.
Why wait before switching the device on?
“A child such as Grayson, who has not heard sound in his life before, can become overwhelmed when the device is first turned on. For this reason, we start by using a very low ‘volume’. Then, as the child becomes more familiar with hearing these new sounds from the environment, the ‘volume’ is turned up gradually over a number of weeks,” explains Dr Butler.
A mother’s gratitude
Grayson’s brother also received the same procedure a year ago. “He has responded well to the treatment,” says Dr Butler.
“My family and I are so grateful that my son was able to receive this great gift of a cochlear implantation. We would like to convey our deepest appreciation to Dr Butler and his team for doing the procedure free of charge, as well as to the Netcare Foundation and Netcare Greenacres Hospital for covering all the theatre and other in-hospital costs and to the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital for covering the costs of the cochlear device. We are also thankful to audiologist Babalwa Potelwa at Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital as she first detected Grayson’s hearing problem. She has been exceptionally supportive throughout this journey,” says Grayson’s mother Antoinette Marais.
The doctors who assisted in making a little boy very happy
Dr Butler and a team of specialists from Netcare Greenacres Hospital, the Netcare Foundation and the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital joined hands to perform the pro bono cochlear implant procedure to ensure Grayson would be able to hear for the first time this Christmas.
“Corporate social responsibility is entrenched in our organisation. Throughout our Netcare operations, doctors and staff members have a deep commitment to assist in improving the quality of life for less privileged individuals and communities through many different outreach initiatives,” says Mande Toubkin, who heads up the corporate social investment (CSI) department at Netcare and is also a director of the Netcare Foundation.
Other specialised surgical programmes supported by the Netcare Foundation on an ongoing basis include craniofacial surgery to correct severe facial anomalies, surgical correction of cleft lip and palate mainly in children, and cataract surgery to restore the sight of mainly senior citizens.
To find out more about the services offered through Netcare hospitals and other of the Group’s facilities, contact Netcare’s customer service centre either by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0860 NETCARE (0860 638 2273).
Xanet is an award-winning journalist and Living and Loving’s digital editor. She has won numerous awards for her health and wellness articles and was a finalist for the Discovery Journalist of the Year in 2009 and again in 2011 for the Discovery Best Health Consumer Reporting and Feature Writing category. She is responsible for our online presence across social media channels and makes sure our moms have fresh and interesting articles to read every day. Learn more about Xanet Scheepers.