Just Another Blog

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sound of Music to Little Ears

Its been a long long really long time since my last blog, not that there weren't things to write about, but there wasn't really the kind of time to collect my thoughts and actually get down to posting them on a blog.

Nevertheless, there are certain golden moments in life, that jolt you, and make you realize that penning down these memories now will do the most justice to them.

Yesterday, I was lucky enough to witness the "switch-on" of a cochlear implant. A little background is in order. A Cochlear Implant(CI) is a bio-electrical device, which is implanted into the head, behind the ear of a deaf patient. What this device does is, it receives the sound waves travelling towards the ear, and converts them into electrical signals that can be sent to the brain. The neurons in the brain then process these signals, in much the same way as sound is perceived in the brain of a person who has the natural ability to hear. In a nutshell, its enabling a person who is born deaf, to hear like a normal person.

My father-in-law, Dr. Shabbir Indorewala, and my better half, Dr. Abuzar Indorewala, had performed the CI surgery on two 3 yr olds here in Nashik. The two children Suyash Sarkate and Vaid Patil, were born with profound hearing loss. Not being able to communicate to their children, not being able to provide them with a normal schooling and upbringing, was something which was very difficult to except for both their parents. These children have little or no benefit from hearing aids, and the only conceivable solution is the CI. The implant however is a highly revolutionary and advanced device which costs a lot.

Not trying to blow my own trumpet, but I must mention that Indorewala ENT Hospital decided to provide a substantial financial aid, to these families of limited means. The surgery was successfully performed by the father and son team, and 3 weeks later both the children had recovered from the surgery, the foreign device, firmly implanted in their bodies. The device however was not receiving the sound waves just yet, which had to be transmitted to it from an external device.

The mechanism is very simple and genius at the same time, on top of the implant on the external side, one can place a specialized RF transmitter. This transmitter stays on top of the implant at all times, due to sheer magnetic force, the strength of magnetism can be controlled externally. The transmitter receives its input from a microphone which is placed on the ear of the patient. The amplification of this microphone can be adjusted using a specialized processor which is strapped on to the back of the patient. Typically an audiologist would be qualified enough to adjudge the right kind of amplification and programming that needs to be done on this processor, which has to be customized for each cochlear implantee.

We had all this mechanism and fundas in place, but nothing could prepare us for what we were about to witness when this assembly was finally made to work on these children who have never heard sound before.

The first in line was Suyash, an extremely aggressive child, who needed to be pacified by his dad at all times. He was easily distracted and very mischievous, so we were curious as to how he would respond to the new sound signals that he was beginning to hear. We switched on the processor, and transmitted sounds with varying frequencies to the microphone. Although he could not understand whats happening, we could literally see the flurry of activity in his brain, through his eyes. With every sound he was looking in a different direction, trying to perceive exactly what was happening. Then once the initial round of test was over for each frequency, we started making different sounds like, clapping and calling out his name. All this was a bit too
much for someone who was used to living in a silent world. He got a little cranky, and we decided that all the electrodes implanted in his brain are working fine, and its ok to give the little one a small break, and let him go out into the quiet for a bit.

Next was Vaid Patil, a bright and happy child, who just cant sit still. With him we tried a different technique. We gave him a set of toys in his hand, one at a time, and then he had to put the toy down when he heard the sound. It took two three different sounds to get him to understand the concept, but then it was really fun watching him. He was really enjoying the whole process. With every "aaa", "eee", "sssss", etc. sound, he used to put down the toy in his hand and pick up another one, readily waiting for the next sound signal. We played with him a bit, sometimes not making a sound at all, and the sweet kid would patiently wait and then give a big smile when he finally heard a sound and put the toy down.

These memories, just cannot be described in words. Watching these kids, react to sounds is something which is so overwhelming, that it can bring one to tears. However this is just the beginning of an uphill task for the parents. These children are now at the hearing and speaking ability of a just born. They still need about 2 or 3 months to differentiate between sounds of people and of traffic. And maybe few more months to be able to understand words and associate them with what they see around them. I really pray to God that He gives the parents the strength and understanding, to undergo the process with patience, and provide the children with regular speech therapy. If all this goes well, by the age of 5, these kids should be able to communicate just like a child blessed with normal hearing.

I hoped you enjoyed reading this, as much as I enjoyed writing it. Please post your comments or mail me if you would want more information on this.

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