Experts work together in history-making operation on child at private hospital
A HISTORY-MAKING collaboration between Life St George’s Hospital, doctors, therapists and the Eastern Cape Department of Health gave a little boy from Motherwell the gift of hearing at the weekend.
The three-year-old deaf child became the first state patient to receive a cochlear implant in Port Elizabeth.
Provincial Hospital audiologist Meghan McCoy said the boy was diagnosed with profound hearing loss in both ears when he was one year old.
The little boy’s mother asked that he not be identified.
At that stage the only option he had, being a state patient, was to be fitted with a hearing aid.
“I knew that a hearing aid was not going to work, as he had no hearing,” McCoy said.
This type of hearing loss is caused by damage to the hair cells of the inner ear, or cochlea, barring sound from reaching the auditory nerve.
In cases like this one, the patient needs a cochlear implant.
It provides direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve in the inner ear.
McCoy put the child on the cochlear implant list at Frere Hospital in East London.
“The condition for him to be considered for a cochlear implant was the family had to relocate to East London,” she said.
“This wasn’t an option.”
Another option for the little boy was to learn sign language.
But McCoy decided to try to find out if it was possible to get a cochlear implant for him in Port Elizabeth.
“I knew Dr Francois Retief [who performed the surgery] and audiologist Melanie Naude from the time I was in private practice,” McCoy said.
“I got funding for the device, R200 000, from the Eastern Cape Department of Health.”
McCoy said all the pre-surgery scans and tests were done at state hospitals.
Retief, who performed the surgery on Saturday, said he was “just the mechanic”.
Retief, who is an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Life St George’s Hospital, said the device had an inside and an outside part. The inside part was implanted under the skin and electrodes were then inserted into the inner ear.
The surgery took about four hours and the boy was discharged the next day.
“I want to stress that a potential candidate for a cochlear implant goes through a whole screening process,” Retief said. “This really is a team effort.” Retief said patients took about four to six weeks to heal after surgery. After that an audiologist, in this case Naude, took over.
After the six weeks, the implant would be switched on.
The volume would then be increased over three to four weeks to allow the child’s brain to learn how to hear.
“This process is sometimes tricky with children as they haven’t heard anything before,” Naude said. That would take 50 to 100 hours of weekly therapy.
“I think one of the things that counted overwhelmingly in this family’s favour is that our little patient’s mom has shown her dedication to getting her son therapy,” McCoy said.
Naude said she would be working with audiologists in the state sector to manage the boy’s case and treatment.
Life St George’s manager Alex Daneel said the hospital would always try to help where there were needs.
“Hopefully we can make a difference in this little boy’s life,” Daneel said.
He said the motivation from Retief played an important role in their decision.
Naude said children who received a cochlear implant before the age of two and adults who lost their hearing at some stage showed the best results.
Retief said children who were born deaf, but with their hearing nerves intact, must receive implants before the age of five as, otherwise, the brain could no longer learn how to hear.
McCoy said she believed that the biggest problem at present was that there was no policy for universal hearing screening for newborns, meaning cases were diagnosed late, if at all.
Eastern Cape Department of Health spokesman Sizwe Kupelo said the department sought to change people’s lives.
“This is just another illustration of us delivering on our resolve,” he said.