By Lauren Wanko
Seven-year-old Christian Golloto loves listening and dancing to music. He hears the songs with the help of his two cochlear implants.
What’s the best part about them?
“That I can hear very well with them,” he said.
Audiologist Dr. Maegan Mapes says the cochlea is a part of the inner ear which receives sound waves and converts those sound waves into a neural impulse and transmits that information up the auditory pathway to the brain. There are hair cells in the cochlea that transmit those sound waves and sometimes there are not enough functioning hair cells or there is a lack of proper nerve function.
“If that nerve has nothing left there to send the information up, it doesn’t matter how powerful the hearing aid is at that point in time. Sometimes there’s really nothing left there to carry the information up the brain,” Mapes said.
A cochlear implant is an electrical device. A portion is surgically implanted in the ear. There are two different external devices patients can choose to wear.
“There is a magnet here talking to the magnet here. What is happening is a regular hearing aid is picking up on an acoustic signal and amplifying the acoustic signal, indicating that the nerve has something there to move the acoustic signal up to the brain. If that nerve has nothing, this electrode is picking up on the acoustic signal and making it an electrical signal. This is an electrical impulse that is going into the nerve and electrically pulsing where the sounds are,” Mapes said.
“I can’t even tell you. He has made such leaps and bounds with them. It’s amazing,” said Dana Golloto.
Christian was born with mild to moderate hearing loss. Initially he used hearing aids. Mom Dana says over the years Christian’s hearing became progressively worse.
“There came a point where I was standing behind him during play, he was on a bike, and I would say something to him and with his hearing aids on I recognized he was not hearing me,” she said.
The Cherry Hill resident was eventually diagnosed with severe hearing loss in both ears, making him eligible for the implants.
A patient must qualify for a cochlear implant, says the doctor. An extensive two-hour evaluation is performed. Hearing thresholds are measured and speech understanding is tested — a patient is asked to repeat single words and full sentences in a quiet setting and again in an environment with background noise. Percentage scores are given and those numbers are used to determine candidacy.
The qualifications vary between children and adults, says the doctor.
“An example: for an adult for Medicare to be able qualify them is they cannot understand more than 30 percent of what’s being said or they will not qualify for the device,” Mapes said.
Christian’s had his implants for about two and a half years. Mom Dana says he now reads at grade level and can do fourth grade math in John F. Kennedy Elementary’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing classroom. She remembers the December day he first used his implants. Santa Claus came to town.
“It was that very day that he got turned on and two blocks away the fire truck sounded and he knew Santa was coming. I can’t tell you the tears. Everyone in the family was crying. Even he was crying,” Dana said.
Christian remembers the day fondly too.
“And then I heard it and then I went outside,” he said.
What was it like to hear it? “Excited and happy,” he said.
A cochlear implant isn’t reversible and the doctor says it could potentially cause further damage to the cochlea. Although the internal device isn’t typically taken out, a patient has the option to not use it. As Christian grows up, Dana’s happy her son has the choice.
“I was responsible to give him all of the opportunities, his opportunities, learning ASL [American Sign Language], understanding deaf culture and the opportunity with the cochlear implant to hear as others hear. If he in the future decides to live in the deaf community, he takes his cochlear implants off,” she said.
For now though, Christian’s next big decision is what song he wants to listen to next.