Leni’s brave new hearing world

BANDAGES: Leni just after the operation. Craig Warhurst
BANDAGES: Leni just after the operation. Craig Warhurst

A BABY hears its first sound while still in utero. At first it's the methodical beat of its mother's heart, then noises from outside the womb. It's the start of the unborn child's ability to understand and interpret noise.

Children like Gympie's Leni Innis, who are born deaf, miss out on the important developmental period, but thankfully modern technology is helping to open up their world of sound.

Leni is the beautiful daughter of David Innis and Tarsha Johnstone.

At 20 months she is just starting to understand the now-noisy environment around her after undergoing surgery to receive two cochlear implants

Leni's surgery was in late February.

Two weeks later the implants were turned on.

Tarsha said it was a special time for David and her after the traumatic experience of finding out something was wrong with their child.

Doctors picked up Leni was deaf early due to the newborn Healthy Hearing screening program.

About two in every 1000 babies born in Queensland are born with severe or profound hearing loss.

After myriad tests and visiting specialists Leni was fitted with hearing aids at just four months old. Doctors investigated if she was a suitable candidate for cochlear implants.

Tarsha said that when a family decided to investigate the option of a cochlear implant, the child had a comprehensive medical, audiological evaluation.

The evaluation consists of functional listening assessments and formal speech and language testing at the Hear and Say Centre in Brisbane.

At $25,000 each the implants aren't cheap and just when they got the good news Leni was a suitable candidate there were fears the State Government was running low on funds for implants.

Thankfully the money was there and Leni was fitted with her bionic ears in a three-hour operation.

For the "switch on", Tarsha and David invited the extended family to the Hear and Say Centre.

She said the staff at the centre welcomed them with open arms.

"It was lovely," Tarsha said.

One of the keen observers was Leni's grandmother, Daph Innis.

She said watching Leni hear her first sound when the implant was turned on was an emotional experience.

"She turned her head looked up at David and smiled at him," Daph said.

"It was very special."

Tarsha said for the first time she could actually see Leni responding to voices.

"I could see her actually processing the sound," Tarsha said.

"She looks at us now, before she had no reason to look at us and she is vocalising a lot more."

Although Leni can now hear, she still has a long hard road in front of her.

"People expect when you put the implants in it's away you go," Tarsha said.

"It's a lot of work and takes time.

"Other babies have been hearing from in the womb. Leni has a hearing age of less than five months.

"Some kids catch up and others need more help."

That's where the Hear and Say Centre comes in.

Tarsha, David and Leni journey south along the Bruce weekly to therapy at the Nambour Hear and Say Centre.

They also track the performance of the implants called mapping.

The term mapping is used to refer to the programming of the speech processor in the bionic ear and the "map" is the level of electrical stimulation needed for the electrodes to activate the hearing nerve in the brain.

At first the bionic ear was "turned down" and with each visit it is adjusted to get Leni used to being able to hear.

She will receive ongoing support for the cochlear implant at the Hear and Say Centre for as long as needed.

"The people at the Hear and Say Centre are beautiful," Tarsha said.

"Amanda our therapist is lovely.

"It will take time for Leni to catch up but she will get there."

Leni's aunty Cathy Dubois is holding a fundraiser for the Hear and Say Centre at the Royal Hotel from 7pm tonight.

Workmate Jake Edgar will shave his dreads for the cause.

Anyone who would like to help the Hear and Say Centre is urged to attend.

Gympie Times

Topics:  birth hearing parenting

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