Cochlear implants bring sound to Garnavillo child
By Molly Moser
Nineteen-month old Lucas Sadewasser giggles and grins, blowing raspberries and babbling as he plays on the floor with big brother Kyle. “This is new for him. He just started making a lot more noises in the past couple of months,” says mom Amy (Howard) Sadewasser, of rural Garnavillo.
A lot has changed for Lucas since July, when he received cochlear implants at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “It’s not a major surgery, but we were pretty nervous,” Amy explains. She and her husband, Noah, were able to take their son home immediately following the three-hour procedure.
A cochlear implant is an electronic device that partially restores hearing for people who have severe hearing loss and don't benefit from hearing aids. The implant consists of an external processor, which sits behind the ear; and a second portion, a receiver, that is surgically placed under the skin.
A microphone on the external portion picks up sounds from the environment. The speech processor selects and arranges these sounds and transmits sound signals to the internal receiver. There, sound signals are converted into electric impulses and sent via the auditory nerve to the brain, where they are interpreted as a form of hearing.
While a cochlear implant does not restore normal hearing, it can give a deaf person a useful representation of sounds and help him or her to understand speech. Results vary from person to person, but according to Mayo Clinic, most patients report improved ability to hear speech without needing visual cues and to recognize normal, everyday environmental sounds; the ability to hear soft sounds; and the ability to find where sounds are coming from.
As a newborn, Lucas didn’t pass the initial hearing test all babies are given; nor did he pass the hearing test administered three days later. At two months, Noah and Amy took Lucas to Iowa City for an auditory brainstem response test. He passed.
However, the Sadewassers remained concerned as their son reached his first birthday. “The whole time, we had suspicions – he wasn’t quite hitting the milestones that he should have,” Amy recalls.
The family worked with an audiologist, a speech language pathologist, and a deaf education teacher to communicate with Lucas.
“He pretty much knows how to get what he wants,” laughs Amy. She says her daughter Allysa, age five, is especially in tune with Lucas. “She got right on board with the signs.”
Three months after the surgery, Lucas has begun to mimic sounds and respond to his name. “You can tell he’s listening now,” says his mother. She describes the sounds her son is hearing with the implants as electronic or robotic. For that reason, it takes time and training to learn to interpret the signals received from a cochlear implant.
Lucas is being closely monitored, and the volume on the implants is gradually being turned up. When the implants were turned on, audiologists were present to make sure Lucas didn’t react negatively to hearing his first sounds. “The goal was not to make him uncomfortable,” Amy explains. “He’s been adjusting really well.”
The cochlear implant procedure is fairly new. Doctors told the Sadewassers their son would likely need to have the internal devices replaced at least once in his lifetime. The external processors could last eight to 10 years.
Things are looking (and sounding) good for Lucas. “As long as he keeps progressing and can keep up with his milestones, he should be able to go to regular school,” says Amy. She plans to send Lucas to kindergarten on schedule at Clayton Ridge Elementary, where a sign language interpreter was hired last November.