Dr. Ivette Cejas is director of family support services for the Children’s Hearing Program at UHealth, University of Miami Health System. For more information on cochlear implants and pediatric ENT, call 305-243-1110.
Isabella Gomez started to lose her hearing at age six. By high school, she found it difficult to absorb information, even with the help of hearing aids. “The hearing aids stopped working in class and I’m a perfectionist, so if I don’t hear anything, I can’t do anything,” says Isabella. “I said, ‘Mom, I’m losing my hearing. Let’s go to the doctor.’”
Although she knew something needed to change, the next step forward wasn’t clear. Isabella felt she was straddling a wide divide between two communities of people, those who were born with typical hearing, and the deaf community, which sometimes frowns upon amplification like hearing aids and cochlear implants in favor of protecting deaf identity and using sign language as sole means of communication.
With the guidance of psychologist Dr. Ivette Cejas and a team of physicians from the Children’s Hearing Program at University of Miami Health System, Isabella reluctantly gave up her hearing aids and agreed to cochlear implants. “We determined in order for her to function in a typical mainstream school setting we needed to provide her with better hearing. The only option for her was a cochlear implant,” says Dr. Cejas.
A cochlear implant is made up of two parts. The internal component is surgically placed into the patient’s cochlea, which is located in the inner ear. Following the surgery, the patient is given the external processor, which sits on the outside of the ear and communicates with the internal device via a circular-shaped magnet.
The sounds a person may hear with cochlear implants don’t exactly replicate typical hearing, but the brain adapts and eventually language can be deciphered. “Many people who receive the correct auditory training following their cochlear implant surgery function like typical adults who are able to hear in all sorts of environments,” says Dr. Cejas.
Isabella now has two cochlear implants, one for each ear. After a period of adjustment, she has embraced this new phase of her hearing journey. She volunteers on the University of Miami campus at The Debbie School, where young children look to her as an example of what a person can accomplish when presented with a challenge like progressive hearing loss.
Where she once struggled with indecision, she now feels gratitude. “It opened up a door for me because I was used to being isolated. I was used to being the shy one. I was used to sitting in the corner not talking to anyone,” says Isabella. “Then Dr. Cejas gave me a push. If I didn’t have that push, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn't be talking about my story. She’s kind of that angel and miracle that changed everything for good.”
Dr. Cejas is part of a comprehensive, multi-disciplinary team at UHealth Ear Institute. In collaboration with surgeons, otologists, audiologists, psychologists and listening and spoken language specialists, the Children’s Hearing Program offers support for children and their parents long after surgery is completed.
Last year Isabella became the first UHealth patient to be accepted in the AG Bell LOFT (Leadership Opportunities for Teens) program for kids with hearing loss. As a participant, she travelled to Washington, D.C., where she made connections with a new community of friends and attended workshops to help her advocate on her own behalf. She still straddles two worlds, but she is more comfortable with her position bridging the divide.
“We live in a world, where people think, ‘She has hearing loss, she’s not going to get ahead in life because she has a missing thing, her hearing,’” says Isabella. “I’m here to prove them wrong.”
FOCUSING ON YOU
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