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Integrating into the hearing world

By Valarie Schwartz

Madison Jackson was a year old when her parents, Corrine and Nick Jackson of Apex, learned that she could not hear.

“We had an inkling at six months, but we weren’t sure until test results at 12 months,” Corrine said. Nobody in the family had ever had hearing problems. “Looking back, it was really emotional, very upsetting, we were questioning why it happened.”

But the same day they learned that Madison was deaf, they also began to learn about cochlear implants, a group of electrodes that are implanted under the scalp, nestled against the skull near each cochlea (the part of the inner ear where sound impulses respond to vibrations), to receive signals from transmitters that attach with magnets to the outside of the scalp. Used with a microphone and speech processor (worn around the ear), a deaf person can hear sounds and understand speech.

“It was pretty amazing to learn that there was a fix, something that could help her,” Corrine said.

During the next six months, an extensive work-up was done to determine Madison’s chances for a successful outcome with implants, and the decision (made easier because Medicare and insurance companies help defray costs), was made to move forward. At 18 months of age, Madison received outpatient surgery, and one month later an audiologist attached the external components and performed the first check while Corrine held her daughter.

“She turned it on and Madison’s face lit up with a huge smile – something we had never seen before,” Corrine said. “Each time she heard the test, she leaned into me and smiled. It was instant and pretty amazing.”

Corrine and Nick are both Triangle natives, but Nick was in the service and they were living in Tennessee at the time.

“When he got out of the service, the therapist we were working with told us about CASTLE,” said Corrine.

The Center for the Acquisition of Spoken language Through Listening Enrichment (CASTLE) is a school in Durham where preschool-aged deaf children with cochlear implants learn how to speak before being mainstreamed into standard schools. It’s an expansion of the W. Paul Biggers, MD Carolina Children’s Communicative Disorder Program (CCCDP) of the UNC School of Medicine. The year-round school helps deaf or hard-of-hearing children ages 3-8, in classes of seven, each usually including two children with typical hearing, become integrated into the hearing world.

“The program is available for every child with a hearing impairment – not just those who use the audiologists at UNC,” said Hannah Eskridge, CASTLE’s director. Additionally, “nobody is turned away based on the ability to pay.”

CASTLE opened in 2001 and has a satellite campus in Wilmington, but the CCCDP provides language-development trainings and workshops all over North Carolina.

“One to three of every 1,000 children are born with hearing loss,” Eskridge said. “That makes hearing loss the number one birth defect” in the United States.

Private grants and some state funding keep CASTLE services available, but money for expansion is tight. Last year when talk of a fundraiser came up, Robert Humphries, administrative assistant at CASTLE, volunteered the concert that The Nomads, the band he’s been in since high school, would be playing in Southern Village at the end of August. Now it’s become an annual event, and returns this Sunday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Market Street Square. The concert is free, but there will be a silent auction (visit biddingforgood.com/auction/BiddingForGood.action) and the opportunity to make a donation. But perhaps the highlight of the event will be performances by CASTLE kids.

“We worried that Madison wouldn’t be comfortable around hearing children, but she wants to be just like them,” Corrine said. “When we go to a public play area or she meets people, she’s very comfortable. We talk often about how much she’s changed our lives. She makes us more patient and understanding; she’s opened our eyes to a lot of different things in life. We’ve learned it’s OK if you’re different.”

For more on CASTLE, visit med.unc.edu/earandhearing

Contact Valarie Schwartz at valariekays@mac.com or 923-3746.

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