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Billy’s fight to hear as parents call for cochlear implants

Billy Cairns (4) currently cannot hear as he has undergone an operation to repair a faulty cochlear implant – his parents say he would not be experiencing this if he had been fitted with two.

Billy Cairns
Billy Cairns
Image: Deanna Cairns

LITTLE BILLY CAIRNS is four years old, and loves his favourite toy, a singing and dancing Mickey Mouse. But the Dundalk, Co Louth youngster is confused about why he can’t hear the toy sing, when he could up to just a few weeks ago.

That’s because Billy, who is deaf, had to recently undergo an operation to repair a faulty cochlear implant. Because Ireland does not offer bilateral (ie, two) cochlear implants as standard, and instead fits children with just one implant at a time, Billy’s hearing levels have dramatically reduced post-operation.

His mother, Deanna Cairns, has spoken to TheJournal.ie on a number of occasions this year about the pressing need for the HSE to offer bilateral implants to children.

She is part of the Happy New Ear campaign, which is run by parents who want two cochlear implants to be offered as standard.

Operation

Billy underwent his operation around two weeks ago, because he had been fitted with an implant that was unfortunately faulty. His mother points out that he wouldn’t be experiencing the current frustration he has now if he had been fitted with two implants.

“He wouldn’t have silence,” she said. He has to wait until around four weeks after his operation to have his new implant switched on – and even then, it will be a much lower level than his previous model. It is hoped the levels will eventually be boosted.

“He is stressed, in silence. He doesn’t understand and is confused,” said Deanna. “If they had two implants, children wouldn’t have to go through this.”

She stressed that this issue with Billy’s implant was due to a faulty batch, and that cochlear implants usually don’t experience such problems.

Until his implant is switched on, Billy is experiencing frustration at having his ability to hear sounds taken away. “He’s not a happy person,” said his mother, explaining that he usually plays with the Mickey Mouse toy that sings and dances. Post-operation, he played with the toy – and told his parents it was broken.

He is experiencing anger and frustration at the situation, as he can’t quite understand what is going on due to his young age.

Health Minister

The Happy New Ear group are waiting on a report coming in June that they hope will recommend bilateral implants.

They have already handed a petition to Beaumont Hospital, which fits the implants, in January and have been trying to set up a meeting with Health Minister Dr James Reilly. They got a much-needed boost with the mention of the issue in the Dáil and a meeting with Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams in February.

Minister Reilly said in March that there are around 200 children in Ireland today who may be suitable for a second implant. He said that the HSE is working closely with Beaumont Hospital to progress plans for both simultaneous and sequential bilateral implantation.

He said that representatives from Beaumont Hospital, HSE management and the HSE’s audiology clinical care programme have met recently to discuss a joint process to identify the options for developing and resourcing a programme of simultaneous and sequential cochlear implantation.

Until they get a definitive answer on the situation, Happy New Ear will continue to campaign for bilateral implants to routinely be offered to children in Irish hospitals.

Read: Reilly: “Priority” to offer children bilateral cochlear implants in 2014>

Read: “We are hopeful”: Cochlear implants campaign gets boost>

Read: “It’s a shame”: Parents appeal for funding for cochlear implants>

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