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Giving the Gift of Hearing – and Speech

With cochlear implants, 7-year-old twins embrace school, play and life

When twins Mikey and Matthew Davis were babies, their parents had no idea they were unable to hear.

It was only around their first birthday ­­­­– when the doctor at a routine checkup asked if the boys were talking – that Alan and Jessica Davis of Bethlehem began to worry. A subsequent hearing test at Lehigh Valley Hospital–Muhlenberg confirmed their fears: the twins had little or no ability to hear in either ear.

Today, thanks to cochlear implants and careful follow-up care from the team of specialists at Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital, the boys are hearing within the normal range while wearing their cochlear implants. And they have learned to speak “in the cutest little voices.”  

Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital was the first place in the Lehigh Valley where children could receive cochlear implants, and still is one of the few places in the state where the surgery is available. It’s just one more way children can receive a higher level of care close to home at the region’s first and most trusted children’s health network built just for kids.

Hearing aids would not work

For many people with hearing loss like the twins had, hearing aids alone would not help, says Alicia Stanley, AuD, the audiologist who has been caring for Mikey and Matthew. “A hearing aid amplifies sound,” she says, “but the patient would not get the clarity of hearing they need to be able to learn to talk.”

“Cochlear implants hot-wire a person’s auditory system,” says Sri Chennupati, MD, the surgeon who cared for the Davis twins. The implants bypass the part of the ear that is not working. “We are granting someone access to sound,” he says, “and giving them the ability to develop speech.”

A new pathway for sound

The external portion of a cochlear implant looks a bit like a hearing aid, Dr. Chennupati says, and contains a microphone to pick up sounds and a processor to digitize them. The internal portion consists of a microchip processor under the skin that is connected to tiny electrodes that go into the inner ear and stimulate the auditory nerve directly. Think of it as a new pathway for sound impulses to get to the brain.

Dr. Chennupati installed the implants in the left ears of both twins shortly before their second birthdays. Stanley took it from there, activating the implants a month or so later. She followed up with them often, as did a speech therapist, while their young brains learned to recognize and understand sounds, and while they developed speech and language skills.

“Patients don’t have to travel to Philadelphia or New York to get expert, high-quality care.” - Alicia Stanley, AuD

“Both the boys are doing great in school,” says Jessica Davis. “They are now in the first grade. They are very social and outgoing. They play baseball and basketball. They love to learn new things, read and craft. Nothing stops them or slows them down.”

A family approach

Thorough follow-up and ongoing support and therapy are the keys to a successful outcome, Stanley says. “It’s a real family approach. Those who follow through really thrive.”

As a result, the twins, who recently celebrated their seventh birthdays, are in mainstream classrooms with their hearing peers. Their speech therapy continues, and while there still are some speech sounds they find a little tricky to produce, “it is a work in progress,” their mom says.

“The boys are right where we want them to be at this point and they continue to improve,” Stanley says. “They speak very well, and in the cutest little voices.”

She says the Davis twins are just one example of the success of Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital’s team approach, providing expert care and easy access to surgery and follow-up care in a “smaller-clinic” setting. “It’s close to home,” she says. “Patients don’t have to travel to Philadelphia or New York to get expert, high-quality care.”

Among the most rewarding experiences for the care team following cochlear implant surgery is the day the implants are turned on for the first time. As an audiologist who does the activation, Stanley sees it first-hand, and Dr. Chennupati and others on the team get to share in the excitement vicariously, through videos and patient cards and letters. It’s truly moving, team members say, to watch the reaction of a child who can hear his mother’s voice for the very first time.

“In the months, weeks and days leading up their surgeries,” Jessica Davis recalls, “we felt anxious, nervous, and even heartbroken for them to have to go through surgery at such a young age. But nothing outweighs giving our boys an opportunity to hear the world around them.”

Lehigh Valley Reilly Children’s Hospital

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