Anna Esler and her husband had known from the beginning that their 1-year-old daughter, Ayla, was deaf and that a cochlear implant could help her hear. But, Esler said, she still did not quite know what to expect — or how their child would respond to it.
In an exam room last month in Texas, a gentle beeping broke the silence, and Ayla, who had been sitting in her mother’s lap turning pages in a story book, stopped, held her hand to her ear and smiled.
Then she started to coo and shake her head from side to side.
And her mother started to cry.
“When I saw her responding to sound I was overwhelmed by thankfulness to God and to everyone else who has been a part of this journey,” Esler said in a Q&A with Cook Children’s Health Care System.
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is surgically implanted to help people who are deaf or hard of hearing to hear, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Esler and her husband, Will, from Amarillo, Tex., said in the statement that they first discovered Ayla could not hear during her newborn exams and then began working with specialists.
“Being deaf isn’t bad, it’s just different,” the couple said, “and so we had spent a lot of time preparing ourselves for what life would be like without Ayla hearing. We had to let go of some things, like her knowing the sound of our voices, the sound of music, the sound of laughter. We had to prepare ourselves to see her enjoy those things in a different way, through the vibration of them, to ‘hear’ with her eyes.
“When we found out that cochlear implants were an option for her,” the couple said, “sound became a reality for her again, and we are so grateful for that.”
NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders explains:
Cochlear implants bypass damaged portions of the ear and directly stimulate the auditory nerve. Signals generated by the implant are sent by way of the auditory nerve to the brain, which recognizes the signals as sound. Hearing through a cochlear implant is different from normal hearing and takes time to learn or relearn. However, it allows many people to recognize warning signals, understand other sounds in the environment, and understand speech in person or over the telephone.
In May, Ayla underwent surgery at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth, according to ABC News. Last month, her implant was turned on.
“Like Anna, I was excited and scared and nervous and hopeful, all at the same time,” Will Esler said in the statement from the hospital. “I thought she would probably cry and scream when her CIs were activated — and she did do that later when it became overwhelming — but to see her hearing sound and enjoying it was just incredible.”
The Eslers said that although their daughter has a long way to go, she is adapting to a new world — she turns to look when a sound catches her attention, she dances when music begins to play, and “she’s starting to calm down when we sing to her if she’s upset.”