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The Gift of Sound

Every year, 23 children south of Taupo receive the gift of sound at St George's Hospital in Christchurch through a cochlear implant.

Posted by on 27 October 2013

Two of these children are siblings Natalia (2) and Jayden Kay (15 months) from Belfast, who received cochlear implants before they turned one due to being born profoundly deaf. Now, both children have been connected to the world of sound and are receiving therapy through the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme (SCIP) to assist with spoken language development.

All cochlear implant surgeries south of Taupo are carried out by surgeons Phil Bird, Daran Murray and Melanie Souter at St George’s Hospital, where up to 23 children receive the hearing device every year. Approximately a third of these cases are from Canterbury.

SCIP is an independent charity based in Christchurch that helps profoundly deaf children and adults throughout the South Island and lower North Island. Since it was established in 2003, SCIP’s paediatric programme has provided more than 170 children with free specialised therapy to help with spoken language development once the cochlear implant is turned on.

Cochlear implants are provided to give individuals sufficient hearing for spoken language development, says General Manager Neil Heslop. “For children with severe to profound hearing loss, standard hearing aids are not able to provide sufficient hearing for this purpose. The advent of cochlear implants means those with profound hearing loss who were previously unable to develop and use spoken language may now be able to do so.”

The Southern Cochlear Implant Programme provides free comprehensive cochlear implant services to children and adults throughout its catchment area. “This involves all cochlear implant-related services including pre-implant candidacy assessment, cochlear implant device programming and equipment management and therapy and rehabilitation after implantation,” says Neil.

“We also provide in-service training of other professionals working with cochlear implant recipients, such as Audiologists, Teachers-of-the-Deaf and ENT surgeons. Patients, once on our programme, will require programming of their cochlear implant at least annually so in that respect we never discharge patients from our care.”

Natalia and Jayden are both currently receiving specialised therapy through the Programme in Christchurch and are making significant improvements in their spoken language development. Natalia and Jayden’s father is deaf and uses New Zealand Sign Language so the children will grow up to be bi-lingual. Natalia and Jayden’s mother, Liz Kay, is a New Zealand Sign Language Interpreter.

Neil says that up to 190 children may be born with significant hearing loss in New Zealand every year. “Of those, typically 10 percent will have severe to profound hearing loss for which a cochlear implant may be indicated, which equates to roughly 19 or 20 children and babies nationwide and we expect to see half of those based on our catchment area.”

On average, a further 20 children receive an implant due to progressive hearing loss or because they may have become deaf as a result of other factors such as meningitis.“In total, in the compulsory education sector, there are approximately 2800 children with hearing loss at any one time. Children with cochlear implants make up 10 to 15 percent of that number,” says Neil.

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