Twelve hours after Jenna’s daughter was born, she learned her husband had a job opportunity that would move their family from Minnesota to Raleigh. Another 12 hours later, their daughter Colette did not pass her hearing test. The physicians said it was possible Colette just had fluid behind her ears and to come back in two weeks for a retest, which left Jenna feeling optimistic. Her husband was skeptical—both of his parents are deaf, so the possibility that Colette might also be deaf lingered in the back of his mind.
Two weeks later, Colette’s retest determined that she was profoundly deaf. Jenna found herself grieving for the life she had pictured for her daughter. It was an overwhelming time, compounded by the family’s upcoming move to North Carolina. Jenna asked her Minnesota-based audiologist to recommend care in North Carolina for Colette. The audiologist told her that they were moving to the right place—UNC Hospitals would be her recommendation regardless of where the family relocated.
The family moved to Raleigh when Colette was four months old and immediately began working with UNC audiologists. The staff and physicians at UNC “took us under their wing, moving us right along,” recalls Jenna. They connected with The Children’s Cochlear Implant Center at UNC and Dr. Kevin Brown, who guided the family throughout Colette’s care. Jenna knew her audiologist’s recommendation was right.
As Jenna and her husband were researching cochlear implants, they learned that if the goal is to develop a child’s listening and spoken language, the earlier the implant the better. This gives the brain more time to adapt to the implant’s signals and interpret them. However, the FDA only approves cochlear implants for children 12 months of age and older. Jenna credits the UNC team with helping her family advocate for Colette to start her journey before the 12-month marker.
Colette received her implant at 10 months old and it was activated—when the device is turned on—one month later. The physicians at The Children’s Cochlear Implant Center prepared Jenna for what she might expect. They told her that the online videos of a child hearing for the first time are not typical of what she might see once the implant is turned on. The implant is turned on at a very low volume as to not startle the toddler. Anything more would be like waking a child sleeping in a dark room by shining a spotlight in her eyes.
Two weeks after Colette’s implant was turned on, something amazing happened when the family dog barked. Colette pointed to her ear to indicate that she heard the dog. Her trajectory skyrocketed from there. At 13 months old, her first word was “mama.” Now, at three-and-a-half years old, she is thriving in a mainstream preschool. Jenna anticipates that Colette will transition to kindergarten needing minimal accommodations.
Colette’s wild, blonde curls often cover up her implant, so many people do not notice it at first; and some mistake it for a glitter headband. Her grandmother, who is deaf and has an implant herself, makes Colette custom headbands to contain her curls and hold her implant in place. Colette’s entire family has worked tirelessly in support of her journey to listening and speaking, whether through impromptu speech therapy sessions around the dinner table, custom headbands, or weekend sessions with learning to listen tools. For Jenna, UNC Hospitals’ guidance and counsel was critical during the long and often overwhelming journey—a journey that has taken Colette from profoundly deaf to listening and speaking in less than four years.