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Sweet Sounds: Cochlear Implants Prove Life-Changing

Monday, August 22, 2016 10:10 AM

Back in 2012, Rosetta Hill’s life was marked by fear and uncertainty, prayer and reflection. Her 2-year-old daughter Ka’Maria “KK” Phifer’s hearing loss was increasing. Hearing aids offered less and less benefit.

Running out of options, the family’s independent pediatrician, Mina Farhadieh, MD, referred them to NorthShore’s Michael Shinners, MD, a neurotologist specializing in neurological disorders of the ear. 

Dr. Shinners noted that Ka’Maria was the perfect candidate for a double cochlear implant.

DoubleCochlearImplant

“The thought of putting my first and only child into any kind of surgery, but especially one that involved the head, was extremely scary,” said Hill, a resident of north suburban Zion.

The device, Dr. Shinners explained, would be implanted into Ka’Maria’s ears to electronically stimulate nerve endings that would then send sound to the brain and promote her speech and language development. Hill researched the procedure and posed questions to the NorthShore team, a collaborative group the youngster had been working with since she was an infant.

“We received plenty of support from the NorthShore team, who have become like family to us," Hill said. "We knew surgery was the right move.”

In April 2012, Dr. Shinners implanted a cochlear device in Ka’Maria’s right ear. The following September, he completed the same procedure in her left ear Progress was immediate. Within minutes of activating the first implant, KK was clapping and waving to others. For a mother once consumed by worry, it was an encouraging first sign and the beginning of her daughter’s transformation.

“When we got home, KK was even showing her grandmother how the implants worked and how she could charge them,” said Hill.

Now age 6, Ka’Maria’s once-languishing verbal expression continues to accelerate at a rapid clip. While she attends a school for hearing-impaired children in Vernon Hills, she also takes classes in a mainstream classroom and communicates—verbally or through signing—with her peers.

“After years of being behind her peer group, it’s so fantastic to see Ka’Maria making such progress,” said Dr. Shinners,who holds an academic title at the Pritzker School of Medicine.

Hill said few can believe her daughter ever faced such dire hearing problems. “Today, she’s like any other little girl playing away.”