Ten-year-old cochlear implant recipient, Amelie Graham, has a keen interest in the technology that has given her access to a world of sound, and recently, Cochlear were able to introduce her to the engineers who made her hearing possible.
Through the individual tracking numbers on her device, Cochlear were able to track which engineers made Amelie’s devices, and she was invited to meet them.
Amelie’s mum, Simone, says that meeting the people who gave Amelie her hearing back was an important moment for Amelie and her family. “Amelie’s cochlear implants have given her so many opportunities, many that we were afraid she might never have. It was really interesting for all of us to see how the implants are made and learn more about the technology.”
Amelie was born profoundly deaf due to Congenital Cytomegalovirus (CMV), an often symptomless and usually harmless infection in healthy adults that can sometimes cause health issues if contracted when the mother is pregnant.
When she was four months old, the family decided to explore cochlear implants as an option for Amelie, and the procedure was done when she was just eight months old. Walking up to the surgeon to find out if the implant had been successful was the longest walk of our lives.” Simone says. “We were amazed when he told us the implantation was successful and all the electrodes were working perfectly.”
Following the procedure, Amelie and her family worked closely with a specialist team at RIDBC that included audiologists, speech pathologists, and a teacher of the deaf to ensure both Amelie and her family had the holistic care and support required to reach her goals.
“Unlike hearing aids, which are unable to amplify sounds loud enough for someone who is profoundly deaf, Amelie’s cochlear implants convert sound into a signal her brain can understand using electrical impulses,” explains Paula Berkley, Amelie’s audiologist at RIDBC. “Giving Amelie access to sound at such a young age gave her the best possible chance to learn how to speak at the same time as her peers.”
A few months after her initial implant, the family were advised that a second implant would be helpful, and Amelie had this second procedure at 14 months old.
Paula says the bilateral implants help with locating where a sound is coming from and can also correct balance issues, “Our brains are wired to interpret sound from both sides, and so two implants is a much more natural state for the brain.”
Ten years on, Simone describes the family’s decision to get cochlear implants for Amelie as ‘the best one they have ever made.’ Now in Year 5 at a mainstream primary school, Amelie is a confident and social girl who participates fully in a wide variety of both school and extra-curricular activities.
In 2018, Amelie’s parents decided to take their three primary school aged children on the trip of a lifetime – a fourteen-week camping adventure around Northern Queensland, Top End, the Kimberley and South Australia. “It’s been a dream of ours for many years,” says Simone, “and we wanted the kids to see how beautiful and amazing our country is. Of course, we had to do some extra preparation for Amelie to take her cochlear implants, organising spare batteries and making sure we made it back to powered sites every couple of days to recharge them, but it was not a big deal.”
When asked if Amelie’s cochlear implants or her hearing impairment hold her back in anyway, Simone’s answer is a resounding no. “Amelie is the real thrill-seeker in the family. She loved all the adventurous activities on our trip – among her favourites were cage diving with sharks in Port Lincoln, and a 12- kilometre trek through Katherine Gorge.”
Amelie is not only adventurous, she is incredibly confident in every day life too. She recently presented to a group of specialist staff from RIDBC on her journey with cochlear implants so far. “Some of my favourite things in the world to do are sing and listen to music. I do jazz dance and I used to do singing lessons, and I have been in the school choir for the last two years. All of this would be pretty tricky without my cochlear implants,” she shared. “I like having implants because it makes me a little bit unique.”
This Hearing Awareness Week, Simone has a message for other parents with babies who have a hearing impairment. “It can feel devastating at first, but there are so many technologies and early intervention supports out there that can give your child every opportunity. For us, cochlear implants were the right option and really helped Amelie excel at school and in life, generally. Watching her grow into an outgoing young lady, who is self-assured and not held back in any way has been incredible. It has been a life-changing journey for Amelie and our family.”