Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Girl has implant op to restore hearing

A DEAF girl from Sonning Common has had surgery to provide her with the gift of hearing.

A DEAF girl from Sonning Common has had surgery to provide her with the gift of hearing.

Libby Welsh, 14, who has been hard of hearing since she was four, has had bilateral cochlea implants fitted in both ears.

She decided to have the operation because she felt increasingly isolated as she could not join friends in typical teenager activities, such as going to the cinema, chatting on the phone and shopping.

Libby, a pupil at Chiltern Edge School, had the operation at the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford last month.

It involved placing electrodes inside the inner ear which send electrical signals along the hearing nerve to the brain, which learns to recognise the sounds.

Now Libby is learning how to interpret the different types of sound with the help of a speech therapist.

Her mother Hilary said it was too early to determine the success of the operation but she believed it would be worthwhile. Mrs Welsh, a trainee psychotherapist, said: “Feelings set aside, it will be better that she’s had the operation because she will end up with more hearing than she did before.

“At the minute she’s not really hearing. What she gets is bleeps and signs but not really words.”

Libby, an aspiring actress, was diagnosed with the genetic condition a decade ago after her teachers at Sonning Common Primary School noticed she gave strange answers to questions.

She has worn a hearing aid ever since but her hearing has become worse over the years.

Mrs Welsh said: “It got to the point where her aids weren’t serving her any longer. She had chosen to go to a mainstream school, which has supported her very well, but she was still becoming more isolated regardless.

“Teenagers move at such a pace and she couldn’t really keep up with a group of young people or any company really. She wants friends so she can feel connected and less isolated.

“If she had been born deaf it might have been different because you are who you are but her body changed and she found herself in another world, which she had to come to terms with.

“Libby was once connected to people in a certain way and she had that taken away from her.”

Jane Humphries, auditory implant co-ordinator at the hospital, said the procedure first took place at John Radcliffe in 1994.

The Oxford Auditory Implant programme initially had about four patients a year but this has since grown to about 60 people as referrals increased.

Ms Humphries said people with a “profound” hearing problem lost 90 decibels of sound but the operation reduces this to 30 decibels.

She said: “It’s not a perfect sound but it’s essentially normal hearing for most people and is enough to access all speech sounds. It’s not a completely natural sound and people do have problems with background noise and group situations but it’s a huge improvement on what people can hear with their hearing aid.”

Ms Humphries said Libby should react well because she could remember sounds from when she was younger.

“For people who have experienced hearing before it can sound quite robotic because the brain needs to fill in the gaps and interpret the speech,” she said. “That can happen quickly but for people who have been deaf for a long time it’s not very natural.

“It is successful in nearly all cases as most people can hear more with a cochlea implant than they could with hearing aids.

“However, the outcomes do vary and largely depends on the length of deafness.Some people who have heard well with hearing aids are able to understand speech quite quickly and can even talk on the phone.”

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