Thursday, October 22, 2009

Implants mark the beginning of hearing, speech for Klemme toddler

Source Link - Implants mark the beginning of hearing, speech for Klemme toddler

KLEMME- Evan Welsh curiously pulls himself up so he is eye-level with the entertainment stand in his family's living room. Although there are many toys sitting mere feet from him, he has his eye on something else-his father's surround sound speakers.

The 13-month-old picks one up with his tiny fingers and hums excitedly before moving to hold the speaker's cord. He looks mischievously at his father, Rich, who is talking with Evan's mother, Clarissa.

Rich realizes what his little boy is up to. He looks at Clarissa and laughs nervously. “You might want to get that away from him.”

Evan Welsh isn't too different from other little boys his age. He is still perfecting the art of walking, a big smile spreads across his face at the sight of a camera and his father affectionately refers to him as a “little destructor”.

To anyone who spends time with Evan, he is a typical, growing toddler. But Evan has something not every 13-month-old has-his very own set of super ears.

“We call him Super Ears,” Clarissa said. “It's kind of been the inside joke in our family.”

But super ears aren't really ears at all. The Welsh family is referring to the cochlear implants Evan boasts, devices that were surgically inserted into Evan's head in August in order to help him hear for the first time in his life.

‘For us, he's still a normal, healthy baby,” Clarissa said. “Looking at him you wouldn't notice anything different.”

Evan, who was born in September 2008, came into this world a healthy little boy. Even though he failed his newborn hearing test, Rich and Clarissa were not concerned.

Seven weeks later, Evan failed his second hearing test.

“At that point, we knew he had some form of hearing loss,” Clarissa said.

Evan then went through a series of tests to determine just how much hearing loss he had. After testing was complete, the family learned that Evan was profoundly deaf. At three months old, he was required to wear a hearing aid, although Clarissa said she, Rich and the doctors all knew it would do Evan no good.

Clarissa said they knew almost immediately that Evan would need cochlear implants if he were to ever get the opportunity to hear.

“When they told us hearing aids weren't going to work, (implants) became our goal,” Clarissa said. “We knew it was the best thing for him and our family.”

Leading up to the surgery, which the Welsh family along with Evan's doctors planned to do around the time Evan was 10 months old, Clarissa and Rich began preparing Evan for a life without hearing. At three months old, Evan was working with a sign language teacher once a week. The teacher also worked with the Welsh family, teaching them the basics of sign language.

“We want him to be able to survive in both worlds,” Clarissa said. “Evan will always be deaf, but with this surgery, he will also have the opportunity to listen and speak.”

Evan had surgery to receive his cochlear implants August 7. The surgery was at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics in Iowa City and took four hours.

Within a couple days, Evan was awake and ready to play.

Evan was allowed to recover from the surgery for a little less than a month before the implants were turned on. The implants, which are designed to adapt to the noise level of different environments, were set low to start and were gradually turned up, allowing Evan to hear at a normal decibel level.

Now that Evan has recovered from his implant surgery, he must learn how to live his life in a world full of sound. Clarissa said Evan's brain must start from scratch processing all the sounds and determining what they mean.

“Evan's hearing age began Sept. 3 when the implants were turned on,” Clarissa said. “That part of his brain is just starting to develop.

“He's just now learning that when we move our lips, sounds come out.”

He also must learn how to live with each implant itself. Evan must wear two rounds coils on his head, which magnetically attach to the coils in his cochlea. The coils are attached to both external processors by a thin wire. The processors are worn behind the ear, but since Evan's ears are too small, each processor is in a small pouch affixed to his clothing.

Rich said it is amazing how much Evan makes himself heard now that he has the implants.

“That is the biggest thing I've noticed,” Rich said. “He's quiet when (the implants) are off, but the minute we put them on, he hums and makes all kinds of noise.”

It has been a challenging journey for the Welsh family. Rich and Clarissa said they are lucky to have help from friends and family, including their two daughters Alayna, 6, and Valarie, 4.

“Alayna is a mother hen, and both do basic signs with him,” Clarissa said. “They don't see him any different because they don't know him any different.

“Their interaction with him will help just as much as any of his teachers will.”

The Welshes continue to have a teacher for the hearing impaired come to their home and work with Evan. Clarissa and Rich also do speech therapy activities with Evan. Evan still makes monthly visits to his doctor in Iowa City, where he is now participating in a research study.

Rich said Evan is doing awesome in developing his hearing capabilities and comprehension. He is right on target for development in other areas as well. Clarissa said it is a goal to have Evan caught up to his peers in every area, including hearing and speech, before he starts school.

In the meantime, the Welsh family will continue to take Evan's journey day-by-day.

“I'm sure he will continue to amaze us,” Clarissa said. “We're so excited to see where we go from here.”

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