Baby Eva Hears for the First Time
Eva Riggs, with parents, Justin and
Meghan, is now able to hear music
for the first time.
- Photos courtesty of Joe Amon,
Denver Post staff photographer
One moment Eva Riggs is an ordinary baby playing with her dolls; the next she hears sound for the first time, her life forever changed as she learns to redefine everything she knows with sound.
At 13 months old, Eva did not know her mother by the sound of her soothing voice, nor did she associate the sound of guitar strings with her father. She did not identify her four-year-old brother by the sound of his teasing. Since birth, Eva was deaf, and now at Children's Hospital Colorado, she hears for the first time.
Three weeks prior, Eva received a cochlear implant to treat the profound hearing loss with which she was born. Now she’s at the Bill Daniels Center for Children's Hearing (BDCCH) at Children's Hospital Colorado with her parents, Justin and Meghan, and brother Myles, to turn on her new hearing devices for her first “hearing birthday.”
Those on the outside wonder how it must feel. When Eva cries, is it pain or confusion or fear? Does she understand what makes her feel this way? Parents who are unfamiliar with deaf or hard-of-hearing issues often need help navigating their new world, as they learn new methods of communication and behavior.
Read Eva’s story in the Denver Post.
Why Children's Hospital Colorado?
When parents first learn their child is deaf or hard-of-hearing, “It can be devastating,” says Stephanie Olson, family consultant at the BDCCH. Children's Hospital Colorado provides a wide range of experts to help parents grieve and adjust to what Olson called “their new normal.”
Despite a national shortage of pediatric-trained audiologists, Children's Hospital Colorado offers a plethora of pediatric services and experts to help children who are deaf or hard-of-hearing. Learn about Children’s team at the Bill Daniels Center for Children's Hearing.
Children's Hospital Colorado offers a 360-degree continuum of care, providing all deaf and hard-of-hearing services under one roof.
“You can’t look at one part of a child to understand the whole picture,” says Lynn Canales, learning specialist at the BDCCH, who educates families and prepares young children for skills they will need for pre-school. “At Children's Hospital Colorado, we look at everything.”
“As a surgeon, I feel comfortable because everything is geared towards children,” says Patricia Yoon, MD, pediatric surgeon, otolaryngology. “It allows us to focus on the issues of the child rather than first getting over the hurdles of having a pediatric patient.”
Eva’s “unbelievable” progress
Just weeks after her first hearing birthday, “Eva is a rock star,” says Jennifer Kolb, M.Ed., CCC-A, audiologist and cochlear implant program specialist at the BDCCH. “She’s adapting well and making more progress than is typical.”
Eva taps her ears when she hears sounds, can hear speech at soft levels, and starts to imitate some sounds. She found her brother playing hide and seek, as he called her name from behind a bed in another room.
“It was amazing to see,” says Kolb, who described Eva’s teary mother and proud father, both thrilled with Eva’s progress at home.
When a child is deaf or hard-of-hearing
Children's Hospital Colorado strongly encourages testing infants prior to discharge from the hospital after birth to immediately identify hearing loss.
“Universal newborn screening is crucial,” says Yoon. Parents have more choices and treatment is more effective when audiologists identify hearing loss early in life.
Kolb executes a variety of tests to determine whether a child is deaf or hard-of-hearing. Her colleague first tested Eva in a sound booth using conditioned responses. Kolb then tested Eva’s auditory brain stem response under anesthesia to obtain a picture of her hearing using responses from the hearing nerve. Both tests concluded that Eva had “profound hearing loss.”
Once Kolb and her team identified Eva’s hearing loss, they evaluated Eva and her family for the best treatment option.
“It’s different for every family,” says Olson, BDCCH family consultant, who helps parents wade through the pool of questions following diagnosis: Should the child learn sign language? Learn to read lips? Hearing aids? Or should they opt for cochlear implant?
Olson explained that no matter the treatment, families must commit to helping their child who is deaf or hard-of-hearing with consistent communication.
“Family involvement is crucial to the success of treatment,” she says.
What is cochlear implant?
With the counsel of Children’s cochlear implant team, Eva’s family ultimately decided on a cochlear implant.
A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted hearing device. The inner pieces thread the cochlea (inner ear) and the exterior component wraps around the ear similar to a hearing aid.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved cochlear implant for children as young as 12 months of age.
Surgeons began implanting cochlear devices about 25 years ago and significant changes for the internal and external components have evolved. The original device had one electrode in the cochlea – now it has up to 22. Advancements in design have, “Improved physical characteristics that are better for children,” says Katheryn Boada, MA, CCC-SLP, director of audiology, speech-pathology, and learning services at the BDCCH. These improvements include thinner implants and smaller external devices to better fit a child’s small ear.