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‘Can you fix my ears?’

As more children receive a second cochlear implant, questions rise about cost … and the value of hearing itself

Sunday, April 1, 2007
By Laura Ungar
lungar@courier-journal.com
The Courier-Journal

can you fix my ear.jpgJaden Young’s question recalled his late mother’s greatest wish.

“Can you fix my ears?” the 7-year-old asked his father, John, last winter.

Jaden was born profoundly deaf, and his mother, Natosha Rhyne, had worked tirelessly to make sure he got a cochlear implant as a baby.

The device allowed him to hear in his right ear, but Rhyne hoped he would someday hear with both ears.

Less than a year after she was killed in a July hit-and-run accident, her wish was fulfilled as Jaden became one of the first Louisville children to join a small but growing group with two cochlear implants for stereo hearing.

Adding the second implant is growing in popularity on the theory that two of the complex electronic devices — like two ears — are better than one. Research shows people with two implants can locate sound more easily, differentiate speech from background noise and speak and understand better.

Despite the benefits, the procedure is controversial. Some people object to using limited health-care dollars to pay for a second implant when some patients can’t get a first. And some within the deaf community view deafness not as a disability that needs to be cured but as part of their culture and identity.

“I personally have been encouraged to have (an implant), but I am against it,” Kevin Martin, president of the Kentucky Association of the Deaf, said in an e-mail. “God made me who I am and I’ve grown up to accept that.”

Nationally, about 10,000 children have cochlear implants, and the California nonprofit Let Them Hear Foundation says more than 1,600 children have the double or “bilateral” implants. Continue

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