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“I don’t have the words to describe how I feel”

A playful hearing test – holding a plastic banana to your year whenever you hear a beep

A playful hearing test – holding a plastic banana to your year whenever you hear a beep

Finally hearing: for seven disadvantaged children in Panama whose cochlear implants have been successfully activated, this dream is already a reality. They were the first to be fitted with implants supplied by the Hear the World Foundation thanks to voluntary work by Sonova staff.

Initially you only see the meter flicker slightly on the computer screen. Then little Isai starts. It’s his first sound. The first sound the three-year-old has heard in his life. The boy looks over to his mother, astonished, and then begins to beam. Tears of emotion are running down his mother’s face. “I’m so moved,” she says. “I don’t have the words to describe how I feel. But I am absolutely overjoyed.”

It is time for experts from the Sonova brand Advanced Bionics to activate his cochlear implant – and this is why they have traveled all the way to Panama with the Hear the World Foundation, a program run by the Sonova Group. Today will see the start of a new chapter in the lives of Isai and three other disadvantaged children aged between two and four: they will finally be able to hear – and thus can learn to speak, go to school, and lead independent lives.

The moment of truth has come in the offices of Fundación Pro Integración (Funproi for short), a charitable organization in Panama City. The little boy had had the implant fitted in an operation six weeks previously, and Sonova staff members Carina Rodríguez, a Clinical Manager at Advanced Bionics, and her colleague Sigrid Broda have met up today with Isai, his mother, and his aunt to activate the cochlear implants: the electrode that was inserted into the cochlea can now relay electrical signals to the auditory nerve. This, in turn, will send impulses to the brain, which can interpret these as sounds. This is a day that will change everything for Isai and three other disadvantaged children between two and four years of age; they will be able to hear for the very first time. Every time they hear a sound, they hold a little plastic banana to their ear – a playful way of testing their hearing. This will open a door onto a new world for them; they will be able to learn to speak, go to school, and look forward to an independent life.

Isai was born with healthy hearing but, as a premature baby, was given medicine that damaged his hearing so badly that he developed profound hearing loss. This came as a shock to his family, who were from a humble background and, like many families in Panama, were unable to find the money for a cochlear implant and received no support from their state health insurance.

Sustainable support

The gift of hearing is a true miracle for Isai. Like the other children, he is from the slums of Panama. Although the healthcare sector in this Central American country provides support for audiological examinations, it can finance hearing aids and cochlear implants in only a tiny fraction of cases and so, for many of those affected by hearing loss, the non-profit Funproi organization is their only hope. It is one of the few institutions in the country that has staff qualified in pediatric audiology and can thus specialize in supporting young people with hearing loss.

“Donating cochlear implants represents a major challenge, as they require particularly intensive after-care in addition to the surgical operation,” explains Elena Torresani, Director of the Hear the World program. “We are delighted that we can rely on Advanced Bionics’ expertise here.” The experts are in attendance on-site throughout the project, overseeing the implant activations and passing on a wealth of knowledge to the audiologists working for Funproi, the project’s local partner; this will equip them to carry out checks on the implants and conduct speech therapy sessions.

The Hear the World Foundation has been supplying Funproi with funding, hearing aids, and expertise since 2013, providing help for hundreds of children with hearing loss. However, children who were beyond the help of even the most powerful hearing aids have hitherto been denied any chance of better hearing, and this is why the Hear the World Foundation has been working closely with Sonova brand Advanced Bionics to donate cochlear implants for Panamanian children.

A milestone for the Hear the World Foundation

Donating cochlear implant systems is a milestone for the Hear the World Foundation: “This contribution will allow us to make hearing a possibility for children who were beyond the help of even the most powerful hearing aids; they too will be able to look to the future with greater confidence,” says Elena Torresani.

The Hear the World Foundation donates the money not only for the cochlear implant systems but also for all the accessories, such as cables and spare parts, and offers a guarantee for 15 years, rather than the usual five. In addition, the Foundation undertakes to supply indefinite aftercare. Volunteer experts from Sonova’s Advanced Bionics brand are involved on a voluntary basis and play a crucial role in Panama as well, keeping a local eye on the project, performing the cochlear implant activations, and sharing their skills with the Funproi audiologists, who will then be able to look after the children themselves. In addition to regular check-ups, they receive speech therapy three times a week with a view to bringing their language skills up to speed over the course of two or three years and getting them ready for school.

 

We aspire to support many more projects like this all over the world in future, and hope to be able to help numerous children enjoy a better life.

Elena Torresani, Director of the Hear the World program

 

The Hear the World Foundation is working on fulfilling these dreams: “Donating the first cochlear implants is an important step for our Foundation. We aspire to support many more projects like this all over the world in future, and hope to be able to help numerous children enjoy a better life,” adds Elena Torresani.

Isai, too, is now doing three sessions of speech therapy every week; he has to work hard to catch up on what hearing children achieve effortlessly in the first years of their lives. His parents will also play a crucial role if he is to succeed in his studies. They are being trained in how to handle cochlear implants and are picking up tips on how to support their child at home using a range of play-based techniques. By offering all these services, the Hear the World Foundation is not only helping the children to hear but it is ensuring comprehensive and sustainable audiological care in line with international standards.

Cochlear implant donations are also due to be rolled out in other countries. As soon as Sonova finds project partners with suitable track records, even more children in the world will be able to hear again, thanks to this cutting-edge technology.