I’d like to dedicate the article of this week to my youngest daughter Laura, now 12 years old. I have been wanting to write about her, and our family experience for a long time, however I was not sure I should expose her, or that she wanted to be exposed. She started a new school in September, and it has been very challenging for her to find her own place in the new class, and the emotional breakouts have been many. After a walk in Palma this week where I counted up to 15 people (kids, adults, male, female) all staring right at her, I asked her “Would you like me to write about you and the Cochlear implants, so more people understand what it is?” she said YES immediately.
Baby Laura was a happy girl who joined her big sister everywhere. She passed all hearing tests at the paediatrician, and they were normal. At 9 months, she had her first ear infection. It was not a big deal; she came down with a temperature and we had some experience since our first daughter had ear infections at an early age too, and had even been operated to put drainage tubes inside her ears. We commented on this to the first specialist we visited in the private clinic, but he waived the worries away and said it is perfectly normal, antibiotics would make her better. But days passed and Laura did not get better. I begged for help. Over a month passed with more doctor visits, tests and finally the specialist agreed to a drainage operation at a private clinic in Palma.
But something was not right with her, even her teacher at the daycare said she was worried and so were we. On the same day she turned one, we got a lead on a German Otorino in Palma, and after 15 minutes he gave us the result. “I’m afraid your daughter is deaf.” My blood froze for a short moment, then I gathered myself and said “Ok, what’s next, what can we do to help her?” “Cochlear implant. She will be OK you will see, read up on the Cochlear implants,” he said as he sent us off. I had no experience, no one in the family was deaf or disabled.
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that electrically stimulates the cochlear nerve (nerve for hearing). The implant has external and internal parts. The external part sits behind the ear, and since 2018 there is a new model off the ear called Kanso. It picks up sounds with a microphone. It then processes the sound and transmits it to the internal part of the implant. A Cochlear user can train their hearing and there are people who speak and understand several languages.
Everything went fast once we had the diagnosis, the university hospital Son Espases took over, we were handled with care and by the best specialist the island could bring. From the first visit until she had a bilateral (two) implants operated into her head and functioning only, 4 months passed.
Fast forward 11 years, she is almost 12-year-old, I know, a typical teenager and that can be quite challenging for any family. She easily makes new friends, and she is doing OK in her class at the local school where she attends a normal sometimes noisy class in Primero de ESO. She loves music and to dance and is very good at it.
The cochlear implants let her hear and talk as a normal hearing person and she speaks Mallorcan, Castellano and English, the last better than many others in her age group. She loves to travel and wants to be a police officer in the village when she grows up. I tell her she can become whatever she aims for because today, you find deaf people with Cochlear implants in all kinds of professions. Laura was the first child out of 105 cochlear users in Baleares that got the new Kanso ear implant. It looks like a white button and sticks to the side of the head. She loves it as she can pair it up with an iPhone or the TV if she wants to and it gives her more freedom. But then again it does stick out and people do stare. It is absolutely normal to look at a person that looks different. My advice if you see her or any other of the 105 people with the implants around; smile along with the stare it feels much less invasive.
In Mallorca we have ASPAS a non-profit organisation, declared of public utility that offers comprehensive care to people with hearing disabilities and their families, defending their individual rights of freedom and equality to achieve their full social inclusion. As a family member there are several services and for the deaf or hard hearing user you are offered speech therapy, they have a coordinator, a social worker and a psychologist. All the staff help to make life easier for the person who is disabled. ASPAS CAFÉ and ASPAS CAFÉ FRONDA are special employment centres that were created with the aim of promoting the employment of people with disabilities. ASPAS Café is located next to the headquarters of ASPAS Palma and has fully accessible facilities, and Aspas Café Fronda is located inside the Fronda Garden Centre.