While adults silently stare, children brim with curiosity over 5-year-old Evana Bennett's "robot ears".

Evana has bilateral cochlear implants to combat deafness brought on by a condition she was born with called cytomegalovirus (CMV).

"She's profoundly deaf on her left side," said mum, Mel Bennett, adding Evana is severely deaf on the other side.

"Unless you started a chainsaw next to her head she wouldn't hear a thing."


CMV is a virus that stays in the body for life once caught, and may never show symptoms.

However for Evana, it has caused her deafness, as well as a partial loss of movement on her right side, called paresis.

Miss Bennett said her daughter had a slight mental deficit, so it took her longer to understand.

"Some things she's at her right age, some things she's not. Her understanding is more of a 3-year-old level when you are trying to explain not to do things."

Evana has had four surgeries, including three in the past six months.

The family are sharing their story for Loud Shirt Day, the annual day to fundraise for the deaf or hearing-impaired is tomorrow.

Evana's paresis, or weakness, meant she couldn't walk until she was 3, and she still struggles with balance issues, although her implants help. Her speech sometimes comes out as gibberish.

A combination of developmental delays and the recent surgeries meant Evana wasn't ready to begin school when she turned 5, but she has been visiting and will begin next term.


"She's loving school," Miss Bennett said. "She knows all her class from kindy so they understand how she works. They just think she's got robot ears."

The school was "very accommodating" and had made a number of changes and worked on gathering the right resources to help Evana learn, she said.

Miss Bennett described her daughter as "very much a social child".

"Kids just understand her, I don't know how. They get what she's trying to ask them even if it's not using proper language."

The implants work by converting sound into electrical impulses, which stimulate the hearing nerve and send impulses to the brain.

"Hearing aids amplify sound or hearing that you already have, they make it louder," Miss Bennett said.

The implants, on the other hand, gave Evana hearing where there was none.

Money raised on Loud Shirt Day went towards funding of the implants, as well as maintenance, transport, and so on.

Evana's condition made day-to-day life harder, but she couldn't tell the difference.

"She has to work twice as hard as everybody else to do everything in her life. Just getting around sometimes can be hard for her."

Miss Bennett's sister, Krystal Boyes, encouraged people to get involved in Loud Shirt Day.

"It just makes such a huge difference to these children having that cochlear implant," Miss Boyes said.

Miss Bennett said donating to the cause gave children like Evana the opportunity to hear and have the support of the team: "Have fun with it, get the knowledge out. It's fun to dress up."

They were involved with the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme in Christchurch, which they could call or text with any questions. They also came to visit and check that everything was in order for Evana.

Miss Boyes said Evana had already made friends at school in her short visits. Some of the other girls had taken her under their wings.

"The teachers told me to leave her alone or she won't have friends," said Kahu Skipper, 8, Miss Boyes' son, who showers her with attention.

But for bubbly Evana, neither deafness or an overprotective cousin will hold her back.