As 2023 closes, we bring you our final 20th Anniversary Hearts for Hearing Patient Hero feature for this year. We’ve enjoyed bringing these stories to you as each one focuses on what can be accomplished when our providers work together with patients and families to help children born deaf learn to listen and talk. Our patients are – and will always be – at the heart of everything we do at Hearts for Hearing.
You may recall our very first Patient Hero Feature last January, Peter, now 24 years old, was the first baby in Oklahoma to be identified with deafness from a newborn hearing screen. The mandatory hearing screen became law in 1999. We thought it only fitting to end the year with another milestone story; this time you are meeting Zoe, who just happens to be one of the first babies identified by our very own Newborn Hearing Screening team.
17-month-old Zoe is comfortable being the center of attention. “She laughs a lot and is always on the move,” according to Mom, Christina, and Dad, Derek, who both love “playing peekaboo and hide-and-seek with their baby girl.” Zoe loves Sesame Street and the Muppets, and she talks and makes noise all the time. Like most parents, they marvel at how much she learns and changes every day.
Mom and Dad first met while they were in college and have been married now just over six years. They tried for many years to start a family and say they had “just about given up trying when along came Zoe!”
Mom describes the pregnancy and delivery as nothing out of the ordinary. Looking back, she remembers being comforted by the fact that a nurse mentioned how well Zoe slept that first night – even though other babies were crying all around her. The family did not have a second thought when Hearts for Hearing newborn screeners tested Zoe’s hearing in the hospital. They assured Mom and Dad the test was gentle and would not cause their baby any discomfort. Zoe referred for additional testing on her first screen and again on her second. Both screeners were reassuring and said failure in the hospital can be common. Their screeners did, however, stress the importance of follow-up testing and helped to coordinate.
The family went to Hearts for Hearing for the more comprehensive Auditory Brainstem Response (ABR) test. It was there that Zoe was diagnosed with bilateral severe/profound sensorineural deafness. “Initially, we grieved Zoe’s hearing loss, but as we quickly began to learn more about the options available at Hearts for Hearing, we began to feel that everything would be okay.”
Zoe received her hearing aids at about 9 weeks of age. “We knew it was important to introduce sound to our baby,” says Dad, who added, “We pretty quickly realized the hearing aids, while beneficial, were not working as well as we hoped.” Mom adds, “That is when we started discussing cochlear implants.” Zoe received her first cochlear implant in March and her second implant in July. After her activations of each implant, we saw immediate progress. “Zoe’s language has really exploded following her implants.”
The family is excited for Zoe’s future. “As listening and talking parents, we are part of the listening and talking world,” says Mom, who adds, “We find comfort in movies, music, and many other activities that involve the hearing sense, and we wanted to give Zoe those opportunities too.”
“We look forward to more of Zoe’s dancing, music, and singing as she grows. We are hopeful that she will teach others that being different is okay and her deafness does not stop her but strengthens her and makes her special. Like all parents, we want Zoe to have as rich a life as possible and for her to be happy.”
“We are so grateful for the newborn hearing screeners and Zoe’s early diagnosis. We truly could not have walked down this path without the help of Hearts for Hearing. We would have struggled with testing, surgeries, insurance, all of it. It can feel overwhelming…Hearts for Hearing gave us choices, and we never felt pressured toward a specific direction. Please follow up if tests indicate a need, ask questions, and listen to the possibilities that exist. Then, the family can then choose the best options for their child.”