Ausnew Home Care | How cochlear implants gave profoundly deaf toddler Charlotte the gift of sound

How cochlear implants gave profoundly deaf toddler Charlotte the gift of sound

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All it took was a simple cold for three-year-old Charlotte Rivett to lose her hearing completely.

Charlotte was born deaf in one ear, but when a cold virus robbed her of her partial hearing ability, her parents were faced with a huge dilemma.

"She was completely and profoundly deaf for about four months while we waited to see if her hearing would come back," said her mother, Catherine Rivett.

Catherine and Tim Rivett wear bright pink shirts while they sit on a swing with Charlotte on their laps.
The Rivetts are asking the community to donate to Hear and Say's Loud Shirt Day.(ABC Capricornia: Inga Stünzner)

It was devastating for the Yeppoon family and confusing for Charlotte, until medical specialists recommended cochlear implant surgery.

It's changed their lives, but it came with huge risks and cost.

"It was a huge leap of faith … we only had one shot at it," said Charlotte's father, Tim Rivett.

The device would remain implanted for potentially 20 to 30 years because it was placed inside the skull, he added.

"It's a tough long-term decision. You're making a decision as a caregiver of someone who is not old enough to understand or have input in that," Mr Rivett said.

Australia has played a major role in the advancement of cochlear implant technology over the decades.

But not everyone is a suitable candidate. 

Of the 1,400 children affected by profound deafness in Australia, only 570 are candidates for the implant, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). 

And there is no guarantee of success.

Tough decision made

When Charlotte's hearing still had not returned months later, the family said they were left with few other options.

If it didn't work, however, the ramifications were huge.

"We probably wouldn't be able to provide the resources and the support for her without leaving our home and our community and our families, and very likely moving to Brisbane [from central Queensland]."

Tim holds a toy tea cup out to Charlotte
Tim says at first they went through shock and grief, but soon found great support.(ABC Capricornia: Inga Stünzner)

The operation is complicated, and instead of amplifying sounds, the implants bypass the middle and outer ear and are an electronic sound. 

In July, Charlotte underwent surgery at the Queensland Children's Hospital in Brisbane and her cochlear implants were successfully switched on.

"Seeing her face and her first words were, 'What's that sound?', honestly, it was just one of the best feelings in the world," Mrs Rivett said. 

For Mr Rivett, it was joy and relief rolled into one.

"It was a really beautiful day and there were a bunch of us in the room and a bunch on a video link because it was during COVID times," he said.

Big costs

Although the cost of the implants and surgery were covered by private health insurance — it ranges between $25,000 and $50,000 per implant — the biggest cost is the rehabilitation.

The AIHW says the cost of treatment is about $35,000 for the first year. 

This is where not-for-profit organisation Hear and Say has stepped in, funding Charlotte's therapy and another 900 Queensland families like hers.

Catherine sits in the doorway of a cubby house and watches Charlotte play with a tea set.
Catherine Rivett says there is no history of deafness in their family.(ABC Capricornia: Inga Stünzner)

Not-for-profit organisation Hear and Say has been with the Rivett family every step of the way and supports more than 900 families in Queensland just like them.

Spokesperson Lorelle Silveira said providing therapy and support to hearing impaired and deaf children before they turned three was optimal.

The organisation is holding its annual fundraiser, Loud Shirt Day, this Friday, encouraging people to rock their loudest shirts and make a donation.

The Rivetts are asking the community to donate to the Loud Shirt Day to help families like theirs access support.


Source: ABC

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