Although born deaf, 15-month old Jonah Knueve is now able to hear his parents voices. Weeks before his first birthday, Knueve became one of only a handful of children in the country under the age of one to receive simultaneous, bilateral cochlear implants.
Doctors at Columbus Children’s Hospital implanted a computer chip and electrode in each ear's cochlea to stimulate undamaged hearing-nerve fibers. When the implant's external microphones detect speech and other sounds, the speech processor codes sound information to the internal computer chip and transfers the coded information to Jonah's brain, which not only allows him to hear, but will help him learn how to talk.
“The more time that passes before the child receives the implants, the more difficult normal speech development is for that child,” said Richard Kang, MD, chief of Otolaryngology at Columbus Children’s Hospital and a faculty member at The Ohio State University College of Medicine.
In fact, many physicians say the sooner kids have the surgery, the better. Each year, more than 13,000 babies are born deaf or born with severely limited hearing. Doctors in the United States began fitting patients with cochlear implants in the 1980’s, but only if they were 18-years or older. Today, the age continues to decrease, and despite some concerns the implants could affect a child’s balance, doctors at Children’s say that was not the case with Knueve. The results they see are positive.
“He actually took his first step right after the surgery,” said Kang. “So clearly, at least clinically, that indicates that the implants did not impact his development in balance in terms of learning to walk.”
Knueve will require adjustments to the implants throughout his life, but by the time he is old enough to share his thoughts, he likely will not remember the 11 months he spent in silence.
Pam Barber / Mary Ellen Fiorino
Columbus Children's Hospital Marketing and Public Relations