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Deafness and cochlear implants

When Stephanie and Mark Lloyd welcomed their fourth child, Margaret, she appeared to be the picture of health despite being born six weeks early. But as Margaret approached the age of 7 months, Stephanie began to notice something concerning: Margaret didn't seem to respond to any sounds around her. “When I began questioning if she could hear me talking, I immediately started banging pots and pans, and her head wasn’t turning to look like she was hearing anything,” Stephanie explained. 
Obviously concerned, Stephanie immediately called the pediatrician to make an appointment. But even the pediatrician was convinced that the lack of hearing was due to the many ear infections Margaret had experienced. He referred the family on to an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist to have tubes put in Margaret’s ears. “After that, I really didn’t think anything of it,” Stephanie added. “I was convinced he was right and it was just that she needed tubes.”
When Stephanie took Margaret for her ENT appointment just two weeks later, however, the real issue was revealed. A hearing test showed that Margaret was profoundly deaf in both ears. “Getting that news was obviously really emotional,” Stephanie said. “It started an emotional rollercoaster of worry about what to do and what her life would look like. But luckily for us, the leading specialist for cochlear implants just happened to be in Birmingham, right in the city in which we lived.”
The family turned to Dr. Audie Woolley, the medical director of the Children’s of Alabama Cochlear Implant Program. He started all of the testing needed to determine if Margaret was a candidate for a cochlear implant, an electronic device for people with extreme hearing loss. It works by sending sounds past the damaged part of the ear to the cochlear nerve. “Thankfully, after jumping through all of the required hoops, we got the good news that she was a candidate,” Stephanie said. “At that time, Margaret was going to be the smallest baby he had ever implanted.”
Wooley implanted the devices when Margaret was 13 months old, they were turned on, and Margaret heard sounds for the very first time. “It was my voice that she heard, and when she did, she just buried her head in my chest and cried,” Stephanie described. “It’s scary for children, especially babies, when they hear noise for the first time. It was a really emotional moment.”
With the cochlear implant surgery complete, the hard work for Margaret and her family began: constant speech therapy. Margaret quickly began speech therapy appointments multiple times a week. Eventually, she also began attending a school for the hearing impaired, but she continued to visit Children’s for speech therapy until second grade.
Now in high school, Margaret continues to thrive with her cochlear implants. “If you were to talk to her, you’d never know she was profoundly deaf if she didn’t tell you because her speech is so amazing,” Stephanie said. “I do think that’s because she was implanted at such a young age.”
Margaret continues to visit Children’s for routine checkups. She even had her cochlear implants upgraded to Bluetooth a few years ago. “I honestly love it,” Margaret said. “I’m thankful to Dr. Woolley for letting me have this experience.”