Hearing expert explains the power of cochlear implants for deaf children

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The deaf population in Kuwait is 110,300

hope-dennisGreat Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) in London gives the gift of hearing to around 100 children across the UK and the world every year through their Cochlear Implant Programme (CIP). Dr Kaukab Rajput, a consultant who works in the multidisciplinary programme helping children to hear and speak with the aid of cochlear implants,

explains what a cochlear implant is and how it can improve the hearing of children this International Week of the Deaf. “Cochlear implants can give a sensation of sound to profoundly and totally deaf children unable to hear with even the most powerful hearing aids,” Dr Rajput explains. “The effects can transform patients’ lives, as they gradually understand the sounds around them; many learn to talk and the majority follow speech without needing to lip-read.”

What is a cochlear implant?

For those with normal hearing, sound waves are transmitted from the eardrum, across the middle ear to the cochlear (part of the inner ear). The cochlear is covered in lots of tiny hair cells, and these hairs change sounds vibrations into electrical signals the brain can comprehend. For those with sensorineural hearing impairments these hair cells are either permanently damaged or destroyed. Conventional hearing aids are not able to help children with sensorineural hearing impairments as they work by converting sound waves into electrical signals and then amplifying that signal. A cochlear implant, however, bypasses the damage in the cochlear by directly stimulating the auditory nerve.

A cochlear implant has two parts: the speech processor and receiver. The speech processor is worn behind the ear, and looks like a conventional hearing aid. It picks up sounds that are then converted into an electrical signal. The signal passes to a coil so that it can be sent to a receiver which is under the child’s scalp. Cochlear implants are performed by an expert surgeon as the receiver needs to be placed under the child’s scalp, but most children are able to return home a day or two after their operation, returning to GOSH for the implant to be turned on and for regular check-ups. “Cochlear implants do not cure a child’s deafness,” Dr Rajput explains, “but they can provide a useful sensation of hearing sound, allowing children to understand and interact with the sounds around them.”

“Things have changed dramatically in the CIP since GOSH performed their first procedure in 1992.” Dr Kaukab Rajput continues, “Our department’s surgeons can now perform cochlear implant surgery before children even reach their first birthday, giving them the best chance to learn to speak like a typically developing child. If there is such a thing as a miracle in medicine, then cochlear implants must surely be one of them.”

Hears to Hope

In 2011 Hope Dennis was fitted with bilateral cochlear implants by Ear, Nose and Throat Surgeon Mr Ben Hartley and supported by their consultant Dr Rajput and the multidisciplinary CIP team. Together the family went on a journey from diagnosis to implantation, supporting and encouraging Hope through the transition and helping her learn how to manage her cochlear implants. Today, Hope attends a mainstream school and is doing well. Together, her parents Oliver and Rebecca share their family’s story:

“After Hope’s cochlear implants were first turned on we found so much joy in her reactions to the simple things like slamming doors and barking dogs. We felt disbelief when we were told she was profoundly deaf: I was a complete mess but Becky held it together much better than me.” Oliver says, “now Hope is doing amazingly well. She attends a mainstream school and is chatty, confident, clearly-spoken and articulate. She spoke at the ‘Power of Speech’ presentation aimed at challenging the perception of deafness and deaf children and addressed a range of specially selected group of influential figures such as policy makers and MPs.”

Becky continues, “It is hard to express the huge admiration and gratitude and respect we have for all the team at GOSH. Not a day goes by when we don’t think about how different Hope’s life is now, thanks to them. They have allowed Hope to be the person she always had the potential to be, and not be limited by a disability. Cochlear implantation, together with speech and language therapy, can bring incredible results.”

The Cochlear Implant Programme (CIP) is made up of a team of dedicated multi-disciplinary professionals. The CIP team is comprised of audiologists, speech and language therapists, psychologists, teachers of the deaf, a hearing therapist and the administrative team. Co-ordinated by a consultant audiological physician, it is one of the largest paediatric cochlear implant teams in the UK and is based in a world-renowned centre for the care of children. From the outset the team has developed a holistic, child centred approach which has enabled it to help profoundly deaf children who are unable to derive benefit from conventional hearing aids, some of whom have more complex medical histories. In particular, a dedicated programme has been developed to meet the needs of deaf-blind children. When the service started in 1992, the audiology department hoped to fit 12 cochlear implants a year. Today, around 100 procedures are carried out each year.

Great Ormond Street Hospital in London is recognised as one of the few truly world-class hospitals for children. As a global leader, GOSH has top clinical and research experts working every day to find new and better ways to treat children. While breakthroughs and medical expertise are essential to the treatment of patients, GOSH also places great emphasis on the support and care provided for children by nurturing an open and supportive atmosphere, ensuring that parents and patients are well informed and closely involved in the treatment process. Children receive the highest standards of care and attention from the expert team of medical and support staff during their stay at GOSH, and are always treated with respect, trust, concern and openness.