Sunday, June 5, 2011

The story of cochlear implants in Australia

From ABC News in Australia:

A medical miracle for the hearing impaired.

JESSICA van VONDEREN: For more than 30 years the cochlear implant has been transforming lives. Invented in Australia, it's had great success in helping deaf babies learn to hear and speak. But the treatment is also becoming increasingly popular amongst older people who are struggling to cope with the loss of their hearing. Emma Pollard reports.

EMMA POLLARD: Lucas Morley's world has changed dramatically.

LUCAS MORLEY: Two, three, go weee.

EMMA POLLARD: For the first time he's really hearing the sounds that shape his life. Lucas and his twin brother Jarvis were born healthy at 35 weeks. Some red flags were raised during Lucas' routine hearing test, but he was eventually given the all clear. But by the time the boys were two his parents realised there was something wrong.

SARAH FRIENDSHIP, MOTHER: We were sort of joking that Lucas never hears us, he never listens, and we just looked at each other and went 'oh my God' you know he never listens, he doesn't turn around when you call his name, he doesn't say his name.

EMMA POLLARD: After a string of hearing tests an Audiologist delivered the devastating news.

SARAH FRIENDSHIP: I was asking questions afterwards and you're sort of thinking of the future of your child and I said 'would his hearing get worse, would he be a very deaf old man' and she just looked at me and she said he's a very very deaf little boy now, his hearing can't really get much worse.

EMMA POLLARD: In shock the family went straight to the Hear and Say Centre for help.

SARAH FRIENDSHIP: They've not only given us hope, they've just thrown us a lifeline and worked beside us every step of the way.

EMMA POLLARD: This is the day that changed everything. Two weeks after having surgery to fit his cochlear implants Lucas is at Brisbane's Hear and Say Centre to have the devices switched on.

AUDIOLOGIST: We'll see how comfy he is, if it falls off, it doesn't matter.

EMMA POLLARD: A team of audiologists painstakingly sets the levels of stimulation needed for electrodes to activate the hearing nerve. At first Lucas doesn't respond. But it isn't long until there's a breakthrough.

AUDIOLOGIST: Beep beep, did you hear something? Who's over there? Hello.

EMMA POLLARD: Each time the team sees a reaction from Lucas they move a puppet around it trains him to look for the puppet as soon as he hears the beep.

AUDIOLOGIST: Beep, beep, did you hear it hello - good show.

EMMA POLLARD: Once the electrodes are mapped comes the moment his parents, family and friends have been waiting for.

JASON MORLEY FATHER: Ah he's already picking it up is he? Hello.

EMMA POLLARD: His eyes say it all Lucas has gone from a silent existence to one with sound. The cochlear implants are just the start.

SARAH FRIENDSHIP: One, two, three, go, go, good boy!

EMMA POLLARD: Lucas needs continuous audio verbal therapy to learn to listen and speak.

SARAH FRIENDSHIP: Meow, meow, it's a pussy cat, ready.

EMMA POLLARD: The family is hopeful that with a lot of hard work he'll be able to go to the same primary school as his twin brother.

JASON MORLEY, FATHER: The implant's been in for about a week and it's pretty good already so we'll just keep going and getting him mapped and see where we end up.

DIMITY DORNAN, MANAGING DIRECTOR HEAR AND SAY CENTRE: What I love to do with parents is to say to them, whatever it was that you dreamed for your child, before they were born, I want you to start thinking about what they were and dreaming them again because everything is possible.

EMMA POLLARD: Dimity Dornan founded the Hear and Say program in 1992 now it helps about 400 children in Queensland each year. About 94 per cent of the program's graduates enter mainstream primary school classes.

DIMITY DORNAN: We can turn a child who has absolutely no hearing to a child who has hearing within the normal range and can be just the same as a child with normal hearing out there in the mainstream.

EMMA POLLARD: The introduction of infant hearing screening has increased the number of children needing help and the amount of funding that's required.

DIMITY DORNAN: We expect our numbers to double by 2015.

EMMA POLLARD: At the other end of the spectrum, 94-year-old Consie Crotty is preparing to become one of the oldest Australians to have a cochlear implant. She's been hearing impaired for 50 years, and is now losing her vision.

CONSIE CROTTY: And I don't want to be both deaf and blind completely - where the hell would I be?

EMMA POLLARD: Without the government assistance she's entitled to because of her military background, she wouldn't be able to afford the technology.

CONSIE CROTTY: Oh it'll make a hell of a big difference, somebody said, it's like magic really.

EMMA POLLARD: Consie is part of a growing group. Last year 120 Australians aged 85 and over received cochlear implants. But doctors say that's a drop in the ocean compared to how many could benefit.

DR SHARON KELLY, DIRECTOR OF ENT SERVICES, ROYAL BRISBANE AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: In older folk you keep them independent, you keep them in their own homes. Not being able to hear in an older person is quite dangerous and very isolating and many of those elderly implantees may not have been able to continue living independently without restoration of their hearing.

EMMA POLLARD: Ear Nose and Throat surgeon Doctor Sharon Kelly says the State Government funds seven implants a year at her hospital but it's not enough.

DR SHARON KELLY: We have more than 25 people on our waiting list so we simply can't even implant the number of people on our waiting list currently and that's growing.

EMMA POLLARD: There are also problems with the high cost of replacing the external part of the implants in adults.

DR SHARON KELLY: Publicly funded implantees are not funded for a replacement so effectively, after five years they have to self-fund a replacement and that's several thousands of dollars.

EMMA POLLARD: The use of cochlear implants was once considered experimental but has become the gold standard treatment. The next challenge is raising awareness and funding to ensure everyone benefits.

JESSICA van VONDEREN: Queensland Health says it doubled the number of paediatric cochlear implants in last year's budget, and it's working through the waiting list.