Calum hears his family with ‘bionic ear’

After three years of silence, this little Cork boy finally experienced something most of us take for granted — the ability to hear his parents and brothers.

The electrodes in Calum Geary’s new “bionic ear” were tested while he was unconscious at the University of Manchester Hospital in England on Wednesday to check what stimulus responses resulted.

But yesterday, with his family by his side, specialists put the little Ballyhooly native’s new device to the test while he was awake.

Audiologists confirmed that he reacted in a way which proved he was finally hearing.

As well as the test sounds used, Calum’s parents Andrew and Helen, twin brother Donnacha, and brothers Barry, 8, and Matthew, 6, were also able to let him hear their voices.

“It was a big highlight,” said Mr Geary. “He got to hear his parents and his brothers for the first time today.”

The results of the tests were not perfect as they showed some of the 21 electrodes are stimulating non-hearing parts of the brain when they are turned on, affecting his gag reflex or making him cough. However, any sound at all is a major breakthrough.

Mr Geary said they have been told it is normal that some nerves may be close together where the implant has been placed on the brain stem. “They’ve identified at least half a dozen electrodes that they will have to turn off and concentrate on programming the other ones and try to refine those. That process is going to be done again tomorrow morning (today) in Manchester.”

Mr Geary pointed out that Calum has less “hearing memory” than a newborn baby because a newborn has been hearing sound for seven months before they are born. “We won’t be looking for any results and we have been told to be realistic for at least six to 12 months because the ABI (Auditory Brainstem Implants) process is a slow one. If this device works perfectly and at five-and-a-half, Calum has the ability soundwise of a two-year-old, that would be unbelievable.”

While focused on Calum’s progress yesterday, Andrew Geary did ask people to remember another Cork infant, Alicja Nowicki, from Ballintemple, who is undergoing multiple treatments costing hundreds of thousands of euro for a life threatening illness called Charge Syndrome.

Mr Geary said the kindness of so many people meant his family had almost fundraised the €60,000 necessary for Calum’s implant, and so he asked people to visit to donate to the little girl’s treatment.

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