So if you broke both legs and went to hospital would you be grateful if they plastered and screwed one leg together or would you be cheeky and ask that they could possibly fix both..? (and preferably free please..?)

No doubt this sounds like an absurd dilemma for a first world country yet it is an issue faced by parents of profoundly deaf children where hearing aids alone will not allow their children to communicate with spoken language.

At three years of age it was very clear that my son would never be able speak and communicate with hearing aids alone and we were very grateful to take up the option of one government funded cochlear implant at age 3. Within weeks of switch- on he produced sounds and words that would have been impossible with hearing aids and his spoken language steadily grew along with the ease of our daily life.

However, school life was artificial and social encounters were often “orchestrated”:  the ambient level of back ground noise meant that the majority of social and therefore school encounters (New Zealand schools are generally very noisy places) were generally impossible learning situations for him . We live in a noisy world and as deaf children get older they soon realize that people make fewer allowances for their hearing loss: schools cafes lectures movies theatres and sports grounds are challenging environments for children with impaired hearing. Much spoken language is missed and many learning opportunities denied to these children. The option of a bilateral implant weighs heavily on the minds of parents though; so not only is there another anaesthetic and surgery but the sting is the cost of $ 40,000 + (circa).

Working as a doctor I am quite well familiar with the differing benefits of surgical procedures. Patients often die as a result of ill considered surgery: later reflection suggests a poorly considered decision. Other patients have life changing surgical procedures giving them immeasurable benefits but some are denied them. It is a complex process where experts often disagree. Science can now however advise us that the cochlear implant is one of the most cost- effective surgical procedures available with down stream educational costs alone significantly diminished.

I took myself to Venice in 2006 to address the issue of the second implant and be guided by the scientific advice of the international experts at the Paediatric Implant Conference.Jozef with camera_March2012

Back in New Zealand within two months Jozef received his second implant at the age of 8. There was a five year gap from the first which according to current advice appeared to be the maximal window. In the ensuing years post-implant support at school was steadily reduced and by age of 9 it was stopped altogether. Friendships blossomed without parental input and Jozef started to play musical instruments. Jozef is learning to fly and continues to play music. There is less exhaustion from the tasks of daily listening for him and our family and his friendships. He achieves highly at school including another language and has no less aspiration and ambition than any other 15 year old boy.

We continue to pay off the debt for the second implant. We are grateful we can afford the extra loan on the mortgage: many cannot.

We strongly advocate funding for bilateral implantation: let us allow these children to achieve their potential.

This is a guest post by Nina Sawicki. Nina is a GP in Wellington and mum of Jozef – a 15 year old with bilateral Cochlear Implants.

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