Cochlear Implants: Sounds of Progress

One day when Harper Blevins was only 8 months old, her mother Emily realized that Harper was no longer responding to her, and couldn’t hear her family talking. She also couldn’t hear the sounds of her favorite toy.

Harper was diagnosed with bacterial meningitis, which was attacking her hearing and central nervous system. Her family was referred to a pediatric otolaryngologist (ear, nose and throat specialist) Anita Jeyakumar, M.D., at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke.

Though they live in Bristol, Va., nearly three hours away, the family gladly made the trip.

Unfortunately, after her examination, Dr. Jeyakumar had more bad news—the meningitis had already made Harper completely deaf.

Time was of the essence if they were to restore Harper’s hearing with a cochlear implant, an electronic device that helps the damaged inner ear send sound signals to the brain.

MRI tests and CT scans further confirmed the need for urgency. Bone was starting to grow inside Harper’s ear—a side effect from the meningitis.

“Once the cochlea [inner ear] fills with bone, we cannot put a cochlear implant in that child,” explained Dr. Jeyakumar.

“Hearing that my daughter was completely deaf after being hopeful that she had a little bit of hearing left was devastating,” said Emily. “But luckily Dr. Jeyakumar and everyone there was very supportive, and they gave us our options because I had never even heard of cochlear implants.”

On Feb. 3, 2017, Harper underwent a successful cochlear implant surgery. Since then, audiologists have been working with Harper to assess her hearing progress.

“Probably within the last two months, she's gotten back more words,” said Emily. “She’s saying ‘momma, dadda, nana…no.’ It’s actually the best feeling ever.”

“Because she went so little time without hearing, she’s moving along very nicely,” said Dr. Jeyakumar. “She can achieve anything and everything she wants. And that’s great. It’s great to be a part of that. It’s humbling to be a part of that.”

Emily in turn appreciates Dr. Jeyakumar’s ongoing advice.

“She’s always giving me words of encouragement,” Emily added. “She’s done everything she has said she was going to do and more.”

Harper is now 14 months old, and her mom couldn’t be happier.

“Every day she’s saying something different or interacting more,” she said. “I look forward to spending the next 18 years of Harper’s life with her.”