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Cochlear implants

My discovers her love of music

14. October 2019
For half a year now, My, a young Vietnamese girl, has been able to hear clearly – thanks to a cochlear implant and habilitation support. Her life has changed a lot since then.
Five-year-old My has a new passion. She loves to sing. Together with her sister, who is twelve years older, the young Vietnamese girl rehearses the first bars of an Elvis Presley song. "Wise men say," hums My. “Only fools rush in," her sister joins in and plays the melody of "Can't Help Falling In Love" on her guitar. For their mother, Hanh, hearing the two duetting is like a miracle. My was born with severe hearing loss. She could not hear any sounds for the first years of her life until she was identified with her hearing loss. "Now she loves music," says her mother.

The girl was helped by a cochlear implant (CI), which she received at the beginning of the year during an operation in Ho Chi Minh City. The CI system converts sound information into electrical impulses and sends them to the brain via the auditory nerve. In Vietnam, the expensive technology is unaffordable for most people because there is no state health insurance. Together with the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss, the Hear the World Foundation has initiated a project that gives families in need access to CI technology and essential habilitation support required for the technology to be successful. My was one of the first to benefit from the program.

Half a year after the activation of the system, My and her parents sit in a restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City. The girl wears colorful rubber hair-ties in her hair and has a plate of noodles in front of her, her favorite food. Her daughter has changed a lot since living with the implant, Hanh says. She used to get frustrated and angry quickly. Now, her character is really blossoming. In school she is now able to concentrate better and has made new friends, her mother says.

While her mother talks, My presses her face against a window in the restaurant and watches the endless stream of mopeds making their way through the metropolis. When she used to stare dreamily into the distance and her mother called her, there was previously no reaction. "When I clapped loudly from behind My, she did not hear me," Hanh says. My only reacted to her parents when they were standing right in front of her. For a long time the family didn't want to admit the problems. The hearing loss was only diagnosed when My was three years old and had to go to the doctor because of a fever. Although she had long suspected that something was wrong, the news was an emotional blow to Hanh. "I saw no way I could offer my child a future."

Hanh is 37 years old and until recently worked in a leather shoe factory. Her husband, who is 13 years her senior, works in a water treatment plant. Their combined salary was not enough to cover the cost of care required to help My. Hope only slowly returned to the family's life. With the support of the Global Foundation For Children With Hearing Loss, she received a pair of hearing aids that her parents could not have afforded on their own. She was enrolled into an early intervention program in her province. The Vietnamese teachers and therapists at this program received training in auditory-verbal practice from the Global Foundation’s professional team. They were prepared to help My make the best use of her hearing aids. With the support of the teachers and therapists at this center and her parents, My started to develop some spoken language. However, there was a limit to how much the hearing aids would benefit her because of the severity of her hearing loss. Through the early intervention programs, Hanh became aware of the  CI program that the Global Foundation and the Hear the World Foundation initiated. She applied to the program in hopes to gain support for her daughter. "It's indescribable luck that we were chosen," says Hanh.

Since then, her family has been delighted by supposedly little things: "Even if I set the ring tone on the cell phone to low, she can hear it," Hanh says enthusiastically. Hanh also sees an obligation in the unexpected opportunity for her daughter. "I know that there are many families to whom these possibilities are not available," she says. "I therefore see it as my duty to use this gift as best I can." It is therefore a matter of course for her to ensure that My does not miss a single session of her auditory-verbal therapy and does the recommended exercises at home. But Hanh wants to do even more and has therefore quit her job in order to spend more time with her daughter. She wants to talk to My as much as possible to help her improve her language skills quickly. She also reads her children's books in the evening. My’s favorites are stories in which animals go on adventures.

My’s enunciation is not yet perfect, but the two can now have normal conversations with each other. "In the morning she calls to me almost every day: Where's my toothbrush? Where are my shoes?" says Hanh. She adds: Sometimes the little girl almost never stops babbling.
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