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Saturday, July 11, 1998 Published at 10:54 GMT 11:54 UK


Bionic ear centre offers new hope

The cochlear implant programme can make deaf children hear

Hundreds of profoundly deaf children could be able to hear if a pioneering Nottingham ear programme raises £1m for a bionic ear centre.

The Ear Foundation in Nottingham has already raised £430,000 towards the centre which would extend the work of the Paediatric Cochlear Implant Programme. It has high hopes of finding the rest.

The programme was the first in the world to implant an electronic inner ear into a profoundly deaf child in 1989. Twelve-year-old Michael Batt is now attending a mainstream school and can use the telephone.

Since then, the operation has been copied around the world, and Nottingham has become an international centre for training.

The programme has recently completed its 200th operation on a two-year-old from Newark.

The operation is only available to NHS patients who are so profoundly deaf that hearing aids do not work for them.

The problems of success

However, the programme's burgeoning success has brought problems.

[ image: The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will help raise funds for the centre]
The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra will help raise funds for the centre
It is finding it difficult to cope with the demand it faces and has a waiting list of several months.

It is also being inundated with calls from anxious parents whose children were either born deaf or became deaf through illnesses such as meningitis.

The time factor is worrying since the operation is less traumatic if performed on children under five.

This is because the older a child gets, the more problems they are likely to have adapting to hearing and learning how to speak.

They often need years of support to make the transition from their silent world. The average age of the children who have the operation is three, but the youngest was just 18 months old.

Interpreting signals

Sue Archbold of the Queen's Medical Centre, where the operation is carried out, said: "If a three-year-old is totally deaf, he or she will have missed the crucial years in language learning. It can be very strange for them to suddenly hear. We have to help them interpret the signals which new-born babies pick up naturally."

The new centre will provide more room for parents to stay with their children while they are taught how to help their children cope with their new hearing world.

It will also mean more beds, more space for training speech and hearing educators and doctors from around the world who come to learn from the centre's success.

It hopes that it can train more UK doctors in the technique as there is a shortage because it has taken off so quickly.

The programme was turned down for a National Lottery bid, but is trying again. It has also had a £94,000 donation from the BBC's Children in Need.

And in September the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is to perform the opera Carmen to raise more money for the appeal.

It is confident that it will have raised the £1m by the turn of the century. "Success breeds success, so they say," said Sue Archbold. "The first steps are the hardest, but we have had a lot of support from different trusts and parents without making a song and dance about it. "

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