Little Megan McCourt was the first person in the country to have a new type of cochlear implant fitted.
Because the two-year-old’s cochlea is not pre-curled (like a snail’s shell) as normal, it meant the conventional device due to be implanted inside her ear during surgery, was not the best fit.
So her ear, nose and throat consultant at James Cook, Anirvan Banerjee, found an alternative solution for her right ear – the Cochlear™ Nucleus® CI422 cochlear implant.
A cochlear implant is considered in patients whose hearing organ (cochlea) is not working. Instead of making sounds louder like a conventional hearing aid would, the implant bypasses the cochlear by converting mechanical sound signals to electrical impulses, in turn generating a sensation of hearing by directly stimulating the auditory (hearing) nerve.
The implant has two parts – an external part which is worn like a hearing aid and is made up of a speech processor, a lead, a transmitter coil and a microphone – and an internal receiver which is implanted under the skin behind the ear.
The speech processor is fitted and programmed – known as a ‘switch-on’ – around a month after the initial operation. In Megan’s case, the internal receiver which has been fitted is straight rather than coiled.
Megan’s mum Yvonne said: “When the first implant was fitted Megan had never heard sound before and it was eight weeks before we saw any reaction, which is common. Then one weekend I said Megan’s name and she looked at me – I spent the next 24 hours calling her and she was definitely hearing; it was like a light switched on.
“Six months down the line she knows how to listen for things and when the new implant was switched on she just looked up at me and did the sign for noise which was great – it was far easier this time.
“With this new implant Meg will hopefully get far more range of sound and it will help her to locate where sounds come from which will be vitally important when she’s older, even for things we take for granted such as crossing a road.”
While Megan is enjoying a new world of sound, when her speech processor is taken off, for example when she goes to bed, she is still deaf.
Yvonne added: “The fact that Megan can hear is a miracle – it’s absolutely amazing for her to go from a world of silence to this. With her processors, she will wake up on a morning and tap the side of her head to say she’s ready to put them onto the little hair-band she wears. Equally when she goes to bed, she’ll take the batteries out herself and put them in the charger – it’s all part of her routine.
“There is no shutting her up now. She loves music and dancing and her favourite programme is Dancing on Ice. Mr Banerjee has really cared and gone that extra mile – the fact she’s had this first implant in the country says a lot about him and we really appreciate it.”
Every year, around 62 cochlear implants are fitted at James Cook.
Mr Banerjee added: “I’m just the plumber really. The clever bit is what the team does next when they map the electrodes to sounds. I’m just really glad that I went to that meeting and found the right electrode for Megan – it just happened to be the first one.”