In just a matter of months, life has forever changed for Flint Vick. Not only did he gain a family, but also the ability to hear.
In January 2015, Brad and Tiffany adopted Flint from an orphanage in China when he was eighteen months old. Before the adoption, Brad and Tiffany knew there was a strong possibility that the little boy was deaf. His file said that he had bilateral microtia, which means his external ears are deformed, and atresia, which means he has no ear canals. “We knew this was in his file, but there was really no way of knowing if he was truly deaf,” Tiffany said. “But we honestly didn’t care either way. We felt the calling to adopt for a long time and were prepared for whatever the case may be. We loved him whether he could hear or not.”
Initially—as with most adoptions—Flint wasn’t very responsive to his new parents. But on the trip home from China, Brad and Tiffany got an unexpected but happy surprise: Flint noticeably heard a little girl on the airplane crying. “When that happened, we knew he could hear some, but we also knew he couldn’t hear much because he had no exterior ear structure or an ear canal to get the sound in,” Tiffany said.
While increasingly hopeful Flint could hear, more pressing medical issues arose when they arrived home. Knowing he may have kidney damage too (since the kidneys and ears develop at the same time in the womb), the Vicks took Flint to nephrologists at Children’s of Alabama, including Dan Feig, M.D., David Kitchens, M.D., and Nurse Practitioner Mary Jane Gillum. “We really thought the biggest issue Flint would face would be hearing, but it turned out to be kidney damage that can’t be undone,” Brad said. “Had he been in a different situation before adoption, the damage could have possibly been prevented. But Dr. Kitchens gave us a lot of reassurance that Flint would still be okay.”
Flint was also seen by Scott Hill, M.D., one of Children’s ear, nose and throat specialists, for two surgical procedures: one to remove a cyst in his head and another on his neck. In between surgeries came a visit to Children’s Hear Center. Audiologists confirmed Flint’s inner ear function, but determined that he needed a special hearing device called a bone conducting hearing aid (BAHA) to get the sound into the ear. The BAHA is an external device that sits in a headband on the skull. “When he got the BAHA, he started hearing sounds like the wind blowing and birds chirping,” Tiffany said. “He could hear so many little sounds he never could before.”
With insurance obstacles delaying the family’s ability to get a BAHA, the Hear Center loaned them one so Flint wouldn’t have to be without. “The Hear Center’s help has been huge for us,” Brad said. “The BAHA is an expensive device and they were more than willing to help us while we were getting insurance sorted out to purchase one.”
With the help of the BAHA and speech therapy, Flint started to say words. And, occupational delays like picking up toys and walking were overcome, too -- he easily keeps up with big brothers Fowler and Fisher. “He’s full of energy and runs and plays and is so agile,” Brad said. “He’s just a normal little boy who just happens to not have ears, and that hasn’t been a problem at all. From the outside looking in, you would think that would be the hardest part. But it hasn’t been as hard as people may think.”
While one day Flint will have the BAHA surgically implanted and possibly have ear reconstruction surgery, his parents’ focus now is on regular checkups with Flint’s specialists and helping the whole family continue adjusting to the new dynamic as a family of five. “Children’s has been so helpful with this entire process,” Tiffany said. “It has been an emotional rollercoaster with ups and downs along the way, but the doctors and staff have done all they can to help us manage. We say every time we leave Children’s that the staff is so special. They see children all day, every day and whenever Flint comes in, they act like he’s the most special child. They are so genuine. You can’t manufacture that attitude.”