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North Texas Toddler Hears for the First Time

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PLANO (CBS 11 NEWS) –  Like most toddlers, Kendall Johnson squeals, gurgles and fusses—but, she’s making happy noises that she can’t hear.  The 9-month old Plano girl was born deaf.

“Most of the toys for babies have sound,” says her father, Kemper Johnson, Sr., “and until now she just looks at it and she’s like ‘that’s not fun!’”

But, technology is about to turn up the volume on her loving, safe, but silent life.

“She has no idea what’s about to happen,” says her mother, Helen Johnson.

Kendall is about to hear sound for the very first time with the help of cochlear implants.  Earlier this month, a tiny receiver was surgically inserted under the skin near Kendall’s ear.  A flat, smooth device similar to a Bluetooth is worn over the ear that picks up and processes sounds.

“A cochlear implant is basically a bionic inner ear,” says Bob Peters, M.D., at the Dallas Ear Institute.  Dr. Peters is guiding Kendall into her noisy new world.  “Today, we can tell all patients—children born with profound hearing loss, and any adult that loses their hearing—that there’s practically no level of hearing loss that we can’t treat them for and keep them functioning very well in the hearing world.”

The Food and Drug Administration first approved cochlear implants for adults in 1984 and for children in 1990.  Experts say the technological advances made over the decades have been tremendous.

“Twenty years ago, the processor that you saw put on their heads today was the size of a large pager that they had to wear on their hip with wires.  Now, it’s reduced to just a little small, behind the ear processor,” says Dr. Peters.

Kendall’s journey into the hearing world begins slowly… first with computer generated beeps that get progressively louder as she gets accustomed to the strange sounds.  Although she is hearing, it will take time and therapy for her to learn the meaning of the new sounds.  Big brother, Kemper Jr., will be a big help.  He, too, was born deaf and received his implants almost four years ago.

“His favorite thing to do is listen to music,” says his Dad.  “How ironic is that?  He loves to sing, he loves to listen to music.  It is neat to see him living the life that you wouldn’t think possible when he was first born.”

The Johnsons say they were stunned when they first learned that Kemper Jr., who will be 5 in April, was deaf. There was no family history on either side.  But, they later learned that both carried a recessive hereditary gene that causes deafness.  Doctors say it is the most common cause of total hearing loss and affects roughly one in 1,000 births.

The Johnson say they knew that there was a 25% chance that Kendall would be born with a hearing loss as well.  But, after seeing Kemper manage so well, felt better prepared.  And now he’s thriving.

Meanwhile, Mom says the words she most wants her chubby cheeked daughter to hear are ‘I love you.’  And with a relieved laugh, Dad adds that what he most wants her to hear is ‘no.’

She’s an adorable only daughter.  Good luck with that.
(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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