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Miracle Moments

By Casey Dandrea

Virginia toddler Charlotte (Charly)’s first experiences with sound using hearing aids captivated millions. The video, taken in 2017 when Charly was an infant, aired across multiple local television networks and went viral on the internet.

Photo credit: Christy Keane (   @    theblushingbluebird   )

Photo credit: Christy Keane (@theblushingbluebird)

Charly’s mother, Christy Keane, is heard fighting back tears in response to her daughter’s expressions. “I’ve never seen that face before. You’re going to make me cry,” Christy says as Charly displays a smile and her eyes light up. For the first time, Charly was visibly reacting to Christy’s voice.

Charly’s one-minute viral video debut was more than heartwarming—it was educational. With technology, children born with hearing loss can communicate just like those with typical hearing.

Christy’s understanding of profound hearing loss before Charly’s diagnosis was minimal. “I had never met a deaf person in my life and had absolutely no knowledge on hearing loss or intervention options,” Christy says. Following Charly’s birth, Christy immediately surrounded herself and family with a team of supportive specialists to earn more about pediatric hearing loss and options for treatment.

Charly was diagnosed with a bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss at age 1 month after failing all three hearing tests as a newborn. She was fitted with hearing aids at 2 months old, which she wore for eight months prior to her cochlear implant (CI) surgery in June 2018. Christy and her husband chose cochlear implantation for their daughter because they wanted to give Charly the best access to speech and sound for her needs.

Christy and Charly. Photo credit: Christy Keane (   @    theblushingbluebird   )

Christy and Charly. Photo credit: Christy Keane (@theblushingbluebird)

Having had access to sound since infancy, Charly will enjoy the same opportunities as a child with typical hearing. Children who receive early intervention for hearing loss reduce their risk of falling behind in speech and language acquisition, academic achievement, and social and emotional development.

The video’s reception inspired Christy to chronicle her daughter’s progress on Instagram. Now with one hundred thousand followers, Christy is thankful to have touched so many individuals all over the world. Her #miraclemomentsoftheday posts, in which she records Charly’s reactions to her daily CI activation (and previously her hearing aids), are especially popular.

Christy is proud to have created a forum that provides encouragement to families of children with hearing loss. “Every day I receive a message from a parent of a newly diagnosed child and I can remember the exact emotions they are experiencing,” she says “I love to be an example of how fulfilling it is to be a parent-advocate and how quickly your perspective changes as you learn more about hearing loss and language options.”

Christy hopes to change perceptions of hearing loss offline, too. She volunteers with Virginia Hands & Voices, an organization that helps families of children with hearing loss. Ultimately, Christy is working to provide an atmosphere for families with children with hearing loss to come together to celebrate their achievements and share their experiences.

Casey Dandrea is an HHF intern studying journalism at Long Island University Brooklyn. For more on Charly’s progress, see Christy’s Instagram.

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The Happiest Baby—With Noise-Induced Hearing Loss

By Nadine Dehgan

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Nothing in my life compared to giving birth and being able to hold my heart in my arms. As most sleep-deprived new parents will attest, there also is nothing quite like the helplessness you feel when this tiny person whom you love more than anything won’t settle and continuously cries (after being fed, changed, swaddled, and is fever-free).

Before my oldest daughter was born I thought I was well-equipped to be a parent. I had always been around children, was the second oldest of six children, became an aunt at 19, had a strict  pediatrician, took my parenting class seriously—and read “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” a best-selling book by Harvey Karp, M.D., recommended to me by other new parents.

Nine years later, it has been brought to my attention Karp’s ardently recommended action of “shh-ing” my daughters is extremely damaging to an infant, or any human. He advises the “shh-ing” sound needed to activate a crying baby’s calming reflex is a rough, rumbly whoosh noise that is as loud as your infant’s crying. This is at least 115 decibels (dB), according to Oregon pediatric audiologists Heather Durham, Au.D., and Shelby Atwill, Au.D. Alarmingly, sounds over 80 dB for an extended period of time are damaging and anything greater than 100 dB for even a few minutes can cause permanent noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).

NIHL is an epidemic for American children—one in five are estimated to have significant hearing loss before the age of 20. I wonder how many children suffer from NIHL as a result of well-intentioned parents who relied on this harmful advice.

I remember reading I could put my daughters at ease by putting my mouth close to their ears and making a strong “shhhhhhhh” noise. The sound of someone’s forceful “shhhh” directly in your ear can actually be painful. (Please do not try it!) Babies have super hearing—the best hearing humans will have in their lives is when they are first born. I shudder to think how loudly I was “shh-ing” my daughters to sleep. The louder they cried, the louder I “shh-ed,” thinking I needed to do more to soothe them as I had learned.

A new grandparent and supporter of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF) recently alerted me to this danger, and after testing the decibels of my so-called soothing “shhh” sounds, I immediately had a pit in my stomach because indeed the noise is loud—dangerously loud. I had “shhh-ed” my daughters for countless nights and naps. White noise machines (usually in a stuffed animal) placed right near a baby’s head can be equally dangerous.

Like sun exposure, loud noise exposure has a cumulative effect; it could be that “inevitable” age-related hearing loss is merely the result of a lifetime of living in our noisy environments with unprotected hearing. Parents with newborns who are difficult to calm down need another, less risky option for inducing sleep, one without lifelong consequences.  



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My Magic Ear Kid

By Joey Lynn Resciniti

Julia was a full-term baby born exactly one week before her due date. She was healthy and perfect. She passed her newborn hearing screening.

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The hospital bassinet had a cabinet underneath where the diapers were stored. If I wasn’t very careful with the doors, they would slam loudly. Julia would startle and cry.

At least she can hear, I thought. This would prove ironic to me when Julia showed signs of having problems hearing. When Julia was 15 months old, I became concerned with her speech—or its lack. She’d babbled a little bit as an infant and then didn’t say much until at a year or so when she said hi, once.

No one wanted to admit there was a problem. My husband was even a little defensive about the subject. Grandparents chimed in that she was just a “late talker.” When I mentioned my concerns to the pediatrician, he recommended the state’s early intervention program, which led to our qualifying for twice-weekly speech language pathologist visits.

All this time, no one suspected Julia wasn’t hearing. With the specialist’s help, small gains were made in her speech. She developed a vocabulary of a few dozen words but never progressed to speaking two-word sentences or multisyllabic words.

So by the time we made it to the audiologist over a year later, when she was nearly 3, I had come to terms with Julia having some level of hearing loss. I knew when she turned her back to me, she wouldn’t respond if I called, and that was a big sign to me.

A Series of Tests

Sitting on my lap in the soundproof booth, Julia turned toward the speaker that was making a loud sound. But as the sounds got quieter, I got a heavy feeling in my stomach. She stopped turning toward the speaker. Finally the audiologist leaned into the microphone and told me she was coming over to our room. I willed myself not to cry as she said she’d found a moderate hearing loss in both ears.

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The audiologist next used little headphones to transmit sound directly to Julia’s auditory nerve. The results showed Julia’s hearing loss is sensorineural, a nerve problem, and not a mechanical problem like a tube that is too small in the ear. I was told that it is not uncommon for a newborn to pass a hearing screening, like Julia did, and then find something later. The audiologist reassured me that we’d found it sooner rather than later, and that intense speech therapy would catch her up.

The next few months were tough. We scheduled an auditory brainstem response (ABR) test. For this test, the audiologist sedates the child and plays a series of clicks while measuring brain activity. This test is often done for young children to confirm their hearing loss before they’re fitted for hearing aids.

Our family was not ready to accept the first diagnosis and kept questioning the results. But I was with Julia in the booth, and knew it was correct. So when the ABR confirmed the hearing loss, I set to work managing the appointments and paperwork that would eventually help my daughter speak and thrive.

The first thing the audiologist showed us after the ABR testing was the “speech banana.” This was a confusing bit of information at first—banana? Speech? The speech banana is a visual aid for a very quick introduction to hearing loss and the varying levels of severity.

Normal hearing is in the 0 to 20 decibel (dB) range at the top of the banana. All speech sounds (vowels as well as consonants and consonant pairs) are above where Julia can hear with her 55 dB loss. Theoretically, without hearing aids she can’t hear any of those sounds.

Things louder than 55 dB, like a dog barking or a piano, would be accessible for her without hearing aids. But the tricky part is that it isn’t so cut and dry. Julia wasn’t unable to hear all language, and she also wasn’t always able to hear dogs barking.

Instant Change

We ordered hearing aids and earmolds. The audiologist showed us how to insert the tiny size 13 battery and talked to us about school accommodations and speech therapy as she programmed the little hearing aids for Julia’s specific hearing loss.

I’d thought about the moment she’d first hear with her new hearing aids. It was going to be the first time she’d hear my voice. Maybe the first time ever. I wanted to say, “I love you.” I wanted to say something nice, something comforting.

The audiologist worked the molds into her ears and clicked the battery doors shut. Julia’s eyes opened wide and her hands clenched on the arms of her chair. She could hear—and she was terrified!

“These are your new magic ears,” the audiologist said.

I didn’t say anything nice or comforting. I couldn’t help myself, I started to laugh! She looked so adorable, like she was on a roller coaster rather than an office chair. I forgot all about making a grand first speech and instead just beamed at her. Julia’s head swiveled to the ceiling. I noticed an obnoxiously loud fan for the first time.

On the way home, Julia tried to repeat just about everything we said. She could hear above the banana, all the vowel and consonant sounds. She began mimicking speech immediately. Every noisy thing that I had never taken the time to notice before was new and interesting.

We were warned that it might be difficult to get Julia to wear her new magic ears. The audiologist told us to be very firm so she wore the devices during all waking hours. If she tried to take them out, back in they went.

Eventually, at age 5, Julia learned to insert her hearing aids herself, with the promise of a sleepover once she could show responsibility. She began to take ownership of the aids, poring over earmold colors and designs (striped, swirled, polka-dotted) with the practiced eye of a stylish tween (she wasn’t yet 8). She became a connoisseur of the hand-shaped earmold (great) vs. one that is made through an automated process (not so great).

Responsibility Shifts

As time goes by, those early years begin to fall into their proper perspective. I used to think it would mean something to me if Julia could someday tell me that she heard me when she was a toddler. Time and distance have shown that she doesn’t remember much of anything from her prelingual years. Her memories start when she was about 4. Everything prior to that comes from pictures and videos.

Some of the videos, like one when she is about 2 showing her fascination with lightning bugs, are painful for me to watch. In the video, you can hear me prompting Julia to say the word “bug” over and over, and watching it now I see plainly that she is confused and cannot hear us saying the word.

I wish I’d realized back then that she needed help. I wish I hadn’t spent a whole year frustrating myself and my baby. If I had to do it again, I would tell myself to get her hearing tested. And also that she was going to be okay and that in three short years she’d be saying so much more than “bug.”  

Life with a 13-year-old hearing aid user is much easier. Julia is an independent seventh grader who gets straight As. We have as a family weathered ear infections with the potential to wreak havoc on a spelling test, late-night searches for a hearing aid battery among tangled twin sheets, and hearing aids that can’t be worn in the pool.

Now there are whole chunks of time when I don’t think about her ears, a blessing made possible by experience. We agonized when Julia’s hearing ability dropped another 15 dB to 70 dB, putting her in the severe category, and feared her hearing would progress even more, but it did not.

At the very first diagnosis, the ENT (ear, nose, and throat specialist, or otolaryngologist) assumed Julia’s loss is genetic, but the markers haven’t been discovered yet. The overwhelming majority of children with hearing loss—more than 90 percent—have typical hearing parents. We just don’t know.

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Years later Julia’s audiologist explained the drop: “Sometimes with a change in a child’s ear canal size, it may seem as if there is a 10 to 15 dB change in hearing across the frequency range. As the ear grows, a little more sound pressure may be needed to detect sound. This will result in what looks like a change in hearing but may just be growth of the ear canal.” This makes sense. After eight years of steady audiograms and this explanation, I am finally able to let go of those lost decibels and my fear of losing more.

Every now and then there’s a head cold, dead battery, or damaged bit of ear tubing, and I am once again that younger mother, riddled with anxiety about taking care of Julia’s hearing. But the shift in responsibility has become hers. Julia is the one taking the lead on troubleshooting her technology at home, school, the pool, wherever she goes. At 13, she is the one always needing to think about her ears. Perhaps that’s what we’ve been working toward all along.

This article originally appeared on the cover of the Summer '18 issue of Hearing Health magazine with a supporting story from Julia Resciniti  

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The Power of a Mother’s Advocacy

By Vicky Chan

Like most moms, Brandy has always been a champion for her three sons, Anthony, 12, Andersyn, 10, and Ayden, 7. Her sons are unlike most sons; each has bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome.

Brandy’s journey as a parent-advocate had a difficult start. She was completely unfamiliar with hearing loss in children before she became a mother, and accessing proper treatment for the trio was a challenge. Brandy juggled numerous audiologist appointments that were a five-hour round-trip drive from home. And, for her oldest child, Anthony, a hearing loss diagnosis came two years delayed.

Clockwise from left: Ayden, Andersyn, Anthony, and Brandy.

Clockwise from left: Ayden, Andersyn, Anthony, and Brandy.

Anthony had typical speech development and passed all his first- and second-year wellness and hearing checks by his pediatrician. When he was 2, Anthony fell and hit his head. Brandy suspected the trauma had caused either hearing loss or a cognitive disorder, but the doctors assured her Anthony suffered no permanent damage and took no action for him.

Brandy’s instincts were correct. When her second child, Andersyn, was diagnosed with hearing loss at birth a few months after Anthony’s head injury, she insisted Anthony receive a detailed hearing evaluation. Born in 2005, Anthony never received a newborn screening despite the passage of the Newborn and Infant Hearing Screening and Intervention Act of 1999, which mandated the practice.

The legislation quickly improved the rate of newborn hearing screening. In 2005, 94.2% of babies in the U.S. were screened, but some states lagged behind. In Tennessee, where all three of Brandy’s sons were born, only 66.9% of newborns were tested—the lowest in the nation. Unfortunately, Anthony was among the 30.1% of Tennessee’s babies not screened. However, by Andersyn’s birth in 2007, the state’s rate increased to 91%. It was only due to Brandy’s perseverance that Anthony was ultimately given a comprehensive exam, diagnosed with severe bilateral hearing loss, and fitted for hearing aids.

Brandy’s message is that newborn screening is vital. “If your child has hearing loss, it is best to start intervention as soon as possible and have your child fitted for hearing aids or cochlear implants if they need them.”

With his hearing aids, Anthony was fascinated by all the new sounds he could hear—including the squishy sound of Brandy’s flip-flops as the pair walked through a parking lot. At that moment, Brandy realized it was likely that Anthony, like Andersyn, was born with hearing loss, but it only became detectable to her after his head injury.

Andersyn was given a newborn hearing test so Brandy knew immediately that he had severe bilateral hearing loss. Later on, one audiologist suggested he wasn’t benefiting from his hearing aids, but Brandy knew differently; with Andersyn’s hearing aids turned up, a sound as subtle as crinkling paper near his ears would startle him. Andersyn now does exceptionally well with hearing aids, as does Brandy’s third and youngest child, Ayden, who was also born with severe hearing loss in both ears. The boys’ doctors have cited a genetic connection of unknown cause.

Today, hearing loss is an ordinary part of life for her three boys, thanks to Brandy’s tireless advocacy. With help from FM systems and speech therapy, Anthony, Andersyn, and Ayden all receive a mainstream education. They enjoy baseball, basketball, hunting, swimming, riding four wheelers, and fishing. HHF’s CEO, Nadine Dehgan, exclaims, “All three boys are incredibly fortunate to have Brandy, a devoted mother who has prioritized their hearing health.”

Anthony, Andersyn, and Ayden are participants in HHF's "Faces of Hearing Loss" campaign.

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Helpful Tips for Parents of Children with Hearing Loss

By Nadine Dehgan

You just learned your child has a hearing loss. It is common (and normal!) to feel overwhelmed, scared, and have many, many questions. Hearing loss is a loss. It’s not uncommon to grieve after receiving a diagnosis. Take some time to come to terms with the news, and know that there are professionals ready to help and there are many resources at your disposal. There are also countless families who have gone through this same experience and have found success.

Here are some helpful tips Hearing Health Foundation cultivated from parents just like you:

Accept your child and cherish them for who they are as a person. This will encourage your child to accept themselves and their hearing loss, providing them with the confidence and assurance that they will be accepted by their peers and community, despite their hearing loss.

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Help your child develop a fun, but informative, answer to educate their friends and others about their hearing loss and assistive devices, should they ask when you’re not around. This will help them develop self-advocacy skills they will need later in life.

Discussing your child’s hearing loss with their siblings may be something you dread. Simple is key. Let them ask questions and answer them as honestly, and positively as possible.

If your child’s chosen method of communication is sign language, make lessons a family activity, if the rest of the family communicates orally. It’s important that your child with a hearing loss feels and is included in all conversations, especially those taking place in the household.

Ask your child’s audiologist for recommendations for a speech pathologist, education consultants, and materials to set up your child for success. (*Laura, HHF’s communications and programs manager, mother used and was very thankful for the free resources from the John Tracy Clinic).

If your child is school-aged, set up a meeting with the school district’s Department of Special Education Services and start the Individual Education Plan (IEP) process. Cultivate and maintain the relationships made with Special Services—your child’s academic success depends on it.

  • Know the laws related to disabilities and special education, so you’re properly equipped to be your child’s best advocate.

  • Have regular check-ins with your child’s teachers to identify any gaps and ensure they are developing appropriately for their age, both socially and academically.

Have a folder/binder and notebook where you house all the paperwork of test and reports, dates of appointments and procedures. This would be a good place to keep any and all hearing aid, BAHA or cochlear implant warranty information.

  • Hearing loss accidents happen and sometimes you just have to laugh them off: When Laura was in kindergarten, she used to take a bath after dinner, and her mother would scream down the hall, “Take out your hearing aids!” One day, she forgot to remind Laura, and into the bath those hearing aids went!

  • Take issues that arise from bullying and other social incidences and turn them into a life lesson about diversity and that being unique is not a bad thing, but something to embrace.

If you’d like to connect to others going through similar situations, or with those who have dealt with these circumstances before, please email us at info@hhf.org. We also encourage you to check out our Pediatrics page for more information and tips.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing research and resources by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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