Healthy Living: ‘Amazing’ implants help Chloe to hear

Chloe with her parents
Chloe with her parents
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Chloe Wilkinson is like any other three-year-old - boisterous, playful and happy enjoying fun days at nursery along with other youngsters.

But had medical advances not been made, the picture could have been very different after the infant was struck down with deadly bacterial meningitis at 18 months old.

The condition left Chloe, from Gleadless Valley, completely deaf in both ears, risking her chances of being able to read, write and communicate as easily as other children.

However, doctors were able to give the little girl the chance to hear again - by fitting special devices called cochlear implants deep within her ears.

Now she has regained her hearing by as much as 80 per cent, results which her mum Samantha, aged 38, said were ‘amazing’.

“I just want her to live as normal a life as she possibly can,” she said.

“I’ve got every faith in the implants.”

The mum said she wants to raise awareness of the technique among other parents struggling with the same decision she and husband Steven, 49, faced.

“What I’ve done for her makes me feel glad when I see her now, it’s all been worth it and we made the right decision.”

Chloe was taken to Sheffield Children’s Hospital early one morning in May 2011, running a high temperature and looking very poorly.

“Her temperature was 42 degrees and her eyes were rolling,” said Samantha.

“She was all floppy, pale and lifeless. I could tell something was wrong.”

Doctors performed a lumbar puncture and soon diagnosed pneumococcal meningitis. Chloe spent three weeks in hospital being treated with antibiotics before she was allowed home.

“It’s quite common for them to have some deafness afterwards, but I noticed she wasn’t responding to things,” the mum continued.

“I thought it was maybe fluid in her ears, but when we brought her home I asked my husband to turn the hoover on and she didn’t turn around. Before she used to be scared of it.

“We tried with a power drill as well, but she didn’t turn round to that either.”

Her daughter underwent a brain stem test to gauge whether her hearing nerve responded to any sound.

“They found she was profoundly deaf and a hearing aid would do nothing for her. At the time I was devastated, I didn’t know whether I’d get my little girl back to how she was.”

Chloe was referred to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, which offers the largest paediatric implant service in the country. Four months on from her meningitis, she was given an operation to have the technology fitted on both ears.

The devices consist of a receiver surgically implanted behind the ear, with electrodes inserted into the cochlea and an external part which converts sound into an electrical signal.

“Everything I say to her, she understands,” said Samantha.

“We were told that the things she hears would sound ‘robotic’ to us, but it’d be normal to her. At first she was terrible, she kept chucking the implants off, but now she is fine.

“She knows that if she takes them off, she can’t hear, and she can put them on herself. She’s just a happy-go-lucky little girl. I’m very proud of her.”

Chloe attends Birley Community Nursery, and has her name down for a place next September at the nearby primary school.

Samantha and Steven both work for Royal Mail delivering post, and have two older sons, Jordan, 14, and Dylan, 12.

“I’m hoping she’ll stay in a mainstream school,” added Samantha.

“She is clever enough and has coped really well.”

Parents were in a race against time

There are around 10,000 people in the UK with cochlear implants, a figure which is growing every year.

The technology can improve people’s ability to hear and understand speech if they can’t benefit from a hearing aid, enabling children who are deaf to learn language and speak intelligibly.

An internal part is implanted in the mastoid bone behind the ear, with electrodes inserted into the cochlea, part of the inner ear.

Meanwhile an external section is fitted - a microphone and speech processor which convert sound into an electrical signal sent to the electrodes.

These then stimulate the auditory nerve sending a signal to the brain, where it is perceived as sound. Research into exactly how wearers interpret the sounds is ongoing.

In Chloe’s case, her parents were racing against time, as a potential side-effect of meningitis is cochlear ossification, where the cochlea becomes filled with bone.

If Samantha and Steven had waited just a few months longer to make a decision, fitting the implants could have been much more difficult.