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Growing Up Different

Photo of Kelly Hearning for the First Time
A cochlear implant lets Kelley Flynn hear for the first time in five years.

For seven-year-old Kelley Flynn, hearing means recognizing the sound of her mother's voice and having the freedom to talk with her friends on the telephone. Almost completely deaf since birth, Kelley is eager to try a device that will do the work of her damaged cochlea, the snail-shaped organ in the middle ear that transmits sound to the brain.

At Boston's Children's Hospital, Alan visits Kelley's doctor, Margaret Kenna, as she prepares to insert a cochlear implant into Kelley's inner ear. The implant's 22 electrodes will do the work of Kelley's own damaged cochlea. Kenna also places a receiver, an antenna and a magnet beneath Kelley's scalp.

Two weeks later—healed from surgery—Kelley is ready to try out her cochlear implant. Kelley wears a microphone over one ear that sends sound to the wireless transmitter clinging to the magnet beneath her scalp. Sounds received by this microphone will be sent to a computer, which in turn processes them into signals to be sent back to Kelley's cochlea.
Photo of Dr. Kenna and X-ray  
Dr. Kenna points out the implant that lies beneath Kelley's scalp.  

After a series of initial tests, Kelley's implant works well enough for Dr. Kenna to switch the microphone on and let the outside world in. At first, the sound of even the quiet room overwhelms Kelley, who throws her hands over her ears with a gasp. But, gradually, her amazement turns to joy as she taps on a drum and plays a piano. Kelley will have years of therapy ahead to achieve her goal of improved speech, but as her father says, for now "it's like Christmas. Each sound is a present."

For more on this topic, see the web feature:
The Cochlear Controversy
Tuning In

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