A note from HearingLikeMe.com: Helen Tinsman works for Advanced Bionics; her daughter Emmy Cartwright is a member of the Phonak Teen Advisory Board.
How we pursued a cochlear implant for our child initially wasn’t straightforward. Emmy was fitted with hearing aids when she was five months old. We were thrown into a world we knew nothing about. A world full of terminology that was brand new to us. Hearing aids. Cochlear Implants. Auditory-Oral. Audiogram. Sign Language. Audiologist. Early Intervention. And the list went on. Some of these terms we had heard before, but we certainly weren’t familiar with them. It was like learning a new language.
We quickly realized that hearing aids were not benefiting Emmy; her loss was too profound. We began a journey to learn about cochlear implants. Our first step was to research the advantages and disadvantages of a cochlear implant for our child. We knew the plans we had for her, but how would a cochlear implant fit in? Would the implant give the benefit she needed? We wanted Emmy to learn to listen and speak, to talk on the phone with her family in other states, to play with all the neighborhood children and go to school with her older sister.
Emmy was a happy baby, but she was also incredibly frustrated. She had no way to communicate with those around her. She would resort to banging her head on the floor and biting. We knew that she desperately needed a way to communicate and the cochlear implant would provide that opportunity. We were constantly fighting to keep her hearing aids in. It seemed as though they were always squealing, and we had a standing two-week appointment with the audiologist for new ear molds because she was growing so fast. We wondered how Emmy would take to the cochlear implant. Would she take it off like she did her hearing aids or would she see the benefit and keep it on?
As we began to look into the cochlear implant, we realized that this technology had the ability to help our child see all the milestones we wanted for her and whatever she hoped for in the future. We were told about risks of surgery, and the professionals were cautious not to be too optimistic about Emmy’s outcomes with the cochlear implant. We met with other families who had children with cochlear implants and we reached out to the cochlear implant manufacturers for more information. From talking to all the professionals working with Emmy and the other families, we knew there would be a lot of work after she received the implant.
We knew this meant a complete change in our family’s way of life. She would have speech therapy several times a week. She would go to school 40 minutes away from home five days a week. I would have to learn how to be her advocate and teacher at home. We talked to our family about what our options were, and we prayed – a lot. In the end, we knew that choosing the benefit of the cochlear implant was the right option for our family. What we saw when we met with other children who had this technology gave us hope and an insight to what could be Emmy’s future.
“In the end, we knew that choosing the benefit of the cochlear implant was the right option for our family.”
On November 15, 2001, at the age of 13 months, Emmy had surgery for a cochlear implant. All the worrying and praying we had done over the past year melted away as the surgeon came out to let us know that surgery was done and everything looked great. The surgery itself took a few hours and we were escorted to a recovery room, then a private room where she stayed overnight.
Emmy was awake shortly after surgery and while crabby, was alert and doing well. We took Emmy home the next morning and she was back to her normal routine by that afternoon. She healed so quickly, which we couldn’t believe. Because she was so restless at home, we even took her out for ice cream the day after surgery! Within a few days the bandages came off and she had a picture perfect post-op appointment. Now, the waiting began. We had four weeks to go before activation.
Read more: Phonak Teen Advisory Board: Meet Emmy
December 18th, 2001, just a week before Christmas, we had Emmy’s cochlear implant activation. We held our breath as the audiologist started the appointment. Right away, there was response from Emmy. Her eyes got big and there was crying from everyone in the room. From the time the implant was activated, she never wanted it taken off. After the appointment we went home and let her take a nap. When I walked into her room to wake her up, I found her reaching through her crib to try and get her implant that was sitting on the table.
Seventeen years later, Emmy proudly wears her cochlear implant. She just graduated high school and will be going to college in the fall to pursue a degree in Special Education. She has taken four semesters of ASL and continues to learn the language. Emmy volunteers with the American Diabetes Association and the Bionic Ear Association. We are so thankful for the professionals and families we have met along the way. She would not be where she is without the benefit of her cochlear implant. To connect with other parents and adults with cochlear implants as we did, please visit Hearing Journey.
How did your family decide to pursue cochlear implants?