Toddler can hear for first time after implant switch-on despite lockdown

An 18-month-old girl has been able to hear for the first time after medics became the first in the country to switch on a cochlear implant remotely because of Covid-19 restrictions.

Audiologists at the University of Southampton set up a link-up over the internet in order to allow the device to be turned on for Margarida Cibrao-Roque despite their clinic being closed to patients.

Professor Helen Cullington, of the university’s auditory implant service, conducted the switch-on from her home linking remotely with Margarida’s parents at their home in Camberley, Surrey.

Professor Helen Cullington linking up with Margarida Cibrao-Roque for remote switch-on (University of Southampton/PA)

She said: “Usually we do the switch-on of a cochlear implant at our clinic at the university but, with some technical creativity and some advice from colleagues in Australia, we were able to do everything necessary over the internet.

“The session went really well and everyone was thrilled with the outcome.”

A cochlear implant is an electronic device which uses microphones on an external speech processor to pick up sound, which is then transmitted as electrical signals to an internal device placed inside the inner ear during an operation. The brain interprets these signals as sound.

When an implant is switched on, levels of electrical stimulation are set by starting very slowly and gradually building up, monitoring the child or adult’s reactions all the time.

The response of the hearing nerve is also measured to help set levels – especially for young children who cannot tell audiologists how loud a sound is.

Prof Cullington said: “At switch-on, a child begins wearing their processors for the first time, and they are able to hear what is around them.

“However, it takes a long time to get used to this and – especially in babies and children who have never heard before – the brain has to learn to understand these sounds.”

A university spokesman said: “With some ingenious thinking, the team worked out a way to conduct their tests over the internet – connecting two computers, utilising specialist software and hardware and monitoring progress via video link.”

Margarida has been deaf since birth due to Ushers syndrome type one – a condition which leads to hearing loss because of abnormalities of the inner ear – as well by a cleft palate which can affect hearing.

Her mother, Joana Cibrao said: “The Southampton team, they were amazing. I cannot praise them enough really, the effort of the team – they were just brilliant and they made it happen.

“The possibility of Margarida calling me Mummy one day would mean the world.

“We will be able to speak with our daughter, to play with her, she will be able to watch TV, things that you take for granted she doesn’t have, so you know, this is a victory really.”

Margarida’s father, Paulo Roque, added: “We are trying to give the best that we can for her and so we’ve opened a big window for Margarida now. All we need to do is take time, step by step and we will get there, definitely.”

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