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FOX Medical Team

Surgery allows boy to hear for first time

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ATLANTA -

Young children learn to speak by listening to their parents and copying them. So what happens when a baby is born profoundly deaf?

Britney and Robby Grove knew almost nothing about deafness when their baby Rylan was born. Over the last year, they've gotten a crash course in it. It led them to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for a surgery they hope can bring Rylan into the hearing world.

The Groves, from Dallas, Ga., feel incredibly lucky. They had an easy pregnancy, a smooth delivery and a beautiful, healthy boy.     
      
"We were so happy. And then the nurse who did his newborn hearing screening came in and said, 'Oh, we're just going to do a routine test.  We're going to check his ears,'" said Britney Grove.

That's when it happened: Rylan failed the hearing test. So they tested again.

"I remember sitting there, 'Just one ear!  I can do one ear,'" said Britney Grove. "And then they said, 'No.' That he was really not heading any kind of environmental sound, not your voice, not music -- nothing."

Rylan was fitted with tiny hearing aids, but because the hearing nerves in his inner ear, or cochlea, weren't working, even the most powerful hearing aid wouldn't be enough to break the silence.

"Some of my best childhood memories of mine were of my momma reading and singing to me.   And when he was born, that was, 'How do you console a child that can't hear you?'" Britney Grove said.

Doctors recommended a cochlea implant that uses electrical signals to stimulate the auditory nerves, but that meant Rylan needed surgery at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta at Scottish Rite.

The surgery will bring big changes for Rylan and Pediatric Ear Nose and Throat surgeon Dr. Brian Herrmann says sometimes hearing sounds for the first time can be scary.

"Some kids will giggle.  Some kids will look around, like, 'what is that,'" said Herrmann.

In the operating room, Dr. Herrmann made a small incision behind Rylan's right ear, and then created an opening in Rylan's inner ear, placing a wire with electrodes that will stimulate his hearing nerve.  In two hours, it was over.

After a couple of weeks of adjusting to hearing, Rylan shows improvement.

"He's a million times more alert with the little bitty things.  Like a helicopter flew over the house the other day and he stopped what he was doing to look to see where the noise was coming from," Robby Grove.

As pediatric audiologist Lisa Matesevac turned the sound up, Rylan cried.

But a few minutes later in the audio booth he smiled, recognizing sounds.
 
"He's detecting and hearing things that he's never heard before," Matesevac said.
 
And Rylan is making sounds, too.

"He walked over to his toy basket and picked up the airplane and made the noise that airplanes make.  And that was, it almost makes you want to cry, it's just such a great feeling," Robby Grove said.

Hearing will be a journey for Rylan Grove, but Britney and Robby feel like this is the first big step.      

"Amazing is the only thing I can think of," Robby said.

Rylan faces another cochlear implant surgery in April. Dr. Herrman believes it will fine-tune his hearing.

The goal is to get him to the level where he can hear not just conversations, but whispers.

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