From the jarring screech of a garbage truck to the meditative lap of ocean waves on the shore, we get so used to the world of sounds around us that we can forget they even exist. But for some people who are hearing impaired, this is an experience they will never know - unless they receive hearing aids. Reporter Jean Bell speaks to a mum whose little girl's life was radically changed by cochlear implants.
A Tauranga toddler's "world of silence" has been transformed into a realm of vibrant sound.
Little Brienna Horn was born profoundly deaf but now has full hearing, thanks to cochlear implants.
"It's been an emotional rollercoaster but she's always been a happy soul and taken it all into her stride," Brienna's mum, Anna Horn, says.
When Brienna was 5 weeks old, her parents were delivered the news that Brienna had profound hearing loss in both ears after she twice failed the newborn hearing screening test.
The news came as a shock but the couple were well-equipped to raise Brienna.
Anna's older brother is deaf so she is fluent in sign language and she has plans to teach Brienna and her 3-year-old sister Mela.
"We were going to teach our girls signing anyway so that they could communicate with their uncle."
But hope for full hearing came when the couple were told Brienna might be eligible for cochlear implants.
Supported by charitable organisation The Hearing House, Brienna underwent a range of tests to get the implants, including an MRI scan, two more hearing screens and a test to ensure her skull was a good fit.
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At 7 months old, Brienna had the surgery at Gillies Hospital in Auckland.
Two weeks later, her implants were switched on for the first time. While her initial reaction was not dramatic, the ongoing impact was astounding.
"When you put them on, her whole face lights up and she's really happy," Anna says.
"She used to live in a world of silence."
She has auditory-verbal therapy every two weeks to help with her development and a hearing test at the end of August indicated she was progressing well, much to Anna's delight.
The surgery, implants and ongoing therapy are all funded by the Government or provided by The Hearing House.
The bubbly toddler has started to make speech sounds, chatting away with her sister and babbling at the family cat.
She's showing a love for music - particularly The Wiggles - and "bops away with her sister," Anna says.
The hi-tech implants are Bluetooth-enabled, meaning Anna can control the volume on her phone and access other data, including the number of times they are taken off her ears.
Anna has high hopes for her daughter's future.
While the toddler can use sign language, the implants mean Brienna will be able to go to mainstream school and chat with friends.
"The world is her oyster."
Today is Loud Shirt Day, an annual appeal run by The Hearing House and the Southern Cochlear Implant Paediatric Programme.
The two charities help to enable deaf children with cochlear implants or hearing aids to listen and speak like their hearing peers. Neither charity charges deaf children or their families for their services.
Money raised through the appeal goes directly back to helping children like Brienna.
Locally, about three to four babies per 1000, who have newborn hearing screening, are ultimately identified as having a permanent hearing impairment in one or both ears a Bay of Plenty District Health Board spokesperson says.
About cochlear implants
- Cochlear implants are made of two parts. The internal part is implanted surgically under the skin behind the ear. The external part is worn on the outside of the body.
- The implant delivers sound and speech information directly to the auditory nerve by way of small electrical currents.
- Unlike hearing aids, which make sound louder, a cochlear implant bypasses the non-functional parts of the ear and delivers small electrical signals directly to the auditory nerve.
Source: The Hearing House