The Gift of Hearing

Annabella Macias’ dramatic transformation from profound hearing loss to hearing is the result of cochlear implants and the Pediatric Cochlear Implant Team at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

A cochlear implant bypasses the inner ear, transmitting sound from an external speech processor and transmitter to an internal receiver that generates electrical pulses directly to the auditory nerve itself.

At 4 months, Annabella was diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss, the result of damage to the inner ear that prevents sound from traveling to the brain. Annabella was 16 months old when the first cochlear device was implanted in her left ear; the remaining device was implanted in her right ear six months later. Over a period of weeks, however, Maryann Florio saw her daughter making huge strides in her language development.

Annabella is involved in classes and therapy four days a week, including sessions with a speech therapist, as well as twice-weekly classes where she interacts with other children who have hearing loss. She sees a member of the cochlear implant team every few weeks for “mapping,” or adjustments to the sound programming of the device. Once mapping on both sides is complete, Annabella will return annually for any necessary tweaks to the programming.

“It can take approximately a year to stabilize the sound mapping so the implant can be customized to each child’s individual hearing loss,” explains pediatric otolaryngologist Kelvin M. Kwong, assistant professor of surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “With the advent of universal hearing screening, there is no reason for a child to have profound hearing loss and not at least be offered a chance for hearing.”