Grate­ful our baby’s alive

Central Leader - - Front Page - By Heather McCracken

IT’S MORE than a month since tod­dler Sian Waet­ford has spo­ken or heard her mother’s voice.

But a cochlear im­plant – or “bionic ear” – op­er­a­tion to­day aims to re­store the 17month-old’s hear­ing.

Sian was left pro­foundly deaf af­ter be­com­ing ill with deadly meningo­coc­cal dis­ease in June.

Par­ents Shar­lene and Jar­rod say they can’t wait to hear their youngest daugh­ter talk again.

“It’s amaz­ing – you have a healthy child one minute, then ev­ery­thing changes,” Shar­lene says.

“Be­fore she was say­ing ‘bye’, now she just waves.

“Those lit­tle things break my heart. She hasn’t said ‘mummy’ in a long time.”

The Block­house Bay tot was rushed to Star­ship hospi­tal less than 48 hours af­ter show­ing flu-like symp­toms.

When she went floppy and her eyes rolled back, they knew some­thing was wrong.

Barely 10 min­utes af­ter ar­rival, Sian’s vi­tals crashed and she was re­sus­ci­tated.

She was di­ag­nosed with meningo­coc­cal C, a strain of bac­te­ria that causes one in 10 cases of meningo­coc­cal dis­ease in New Zealand.

It’s not cov­ered by the MeNZB im­mu­ni­sa­tion pro­gramme and can cause blood poi­son­ing or menin­gi­tis.

It is most se­ri­ous in un­der-fives. They of­ten suf­fer brain dam­age, loss of limbs or learn­ing dif­fi­cul­ties.

The Waet­fords’ trau­matic week in hospi­tal in­cluded three days in in­ten­sive care.

“It’s a ter­ri­ble dis­ease. You don’t re­alise un­til you’ve been through it,” says Jar­rod, who lost a great-nephew to menin­gi­tis six years ago.

The cou­ple say Sian ap­peared to re­cover quickly, but a week af­ter dis­charge was back in hospi­tal.

She wasn’t re­gain­ing mo­tor skills and Shar­lene sus­pected Sian couldn’t hear.

Tests showed she had only 25 per­cent hear­ing in one ear and her bal­ance had been af­fected.

“We cried and wor­ried about her fu­ture,” Jar­rod says.

But the cou­ple are just grate­ful their baby is alive.

“We were re­ally lucky it was caught early. The bot­tom line is she’s still her happy self.”

The cou­ple, who have three other chil­dren aged 11, nine and eight, say they couldn’t have coped with­out the help of friends and fam­ily.

Now Sian will have to ad­just to her new hear­ing.

The im­plant sends an elec­tronic sig­nal via the au­di­tory nerve to the brain, which in­ter­prets it as sound.

Sian will have de­vices un- der her skin and will wear an ex­ter­nal trans­mit­ter.

The sounds will not be like nor­mal hear­ing and she may take time to ad­just.

Ear, nose and throat sur­geon Michele Neef says it is vi­tal the surgery is done as soon as pos­si­ble be­cause there is a risk the cochlear will scar over, pre­vent­ing the im­plant be­ing in­serted.

“Once that hap­pens, noth­ing can be done,” he says.

He says Sian is at an ideal age to ben­e­fit from the surgery. “I think she’ll do very well.”


“Re­ally lucky”: Shar­lene and Jar­rod Waet­ford are grate­ful to still have daugh­ter Sian, 17 months, whose brush with meningo­coc­cal dis­ease left her al­most com­pletely deaf.

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