He hears.

Ancient Archives Week — i.e., I’m on vacation and can’t update daily — kicks off with a theme, of sorts: How Things Change. I wrote this column in October 2001, when Elliot Kwilinski, 9 months, was about to become Indiana’s youngest cochlear implant recipient. The Kwilinskis moved to Colorado not long after their son’s surgery, but before they left I heard from them that the procedure was a success. A little present-day Googling reveals they had a second son, also born with profound deafness, also a CI recipient. I’m struck by the optimism she shows in this interview, and in this YouTube video, she indicates their choice has not been popular with some, presumably in the deaf-culture community. It was to be expected, but still depressing. The videos would indicate Elliot is growing into a fine young man. Anyway, this column, and all the ones that will follow this week, originally appeared in The News-Sentinel of Fort Wayne, my employer at the time.

In her “crying in the shower moments,” Amy Kwilinski thinks of the beach.

The beach, where one of the rituals is taking off your watch, your jewelry, and other valuables that might be harmed by exposure to sand and grit and water.

“But how do you tell a child to take off a $5,000 device that allows him to hear?” she wonders. It’s not the device she worries about; it’s her son Elliot’s ability to experience the beach the way everyone else does.

Those moments pass pretty quickly, though. Kwilinski and her husband, Kevin, know that $5,000 device – a cochlear implant – will give their son an excellent chance at experiencing life the way everyone else does.

Next week, if all goes as scheduled, Elliot will travel to Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis and there become the youngest Indiana resident to receive one of the electronic devices, which help the profoundly deaf to hear in a manner approaching natural hearing. He’s only 9 months old, still nursing, not yet crawling. But his young age will allow him to adapt to the implant in a way older recipients might not – and get the maximum benefit from it.

“We wanted to take advantage of the brain’s plasticity,” said Amy, 33, who has been researching deafness, deaf culture, hearing aids and cochlear implants since Elliot’s disability turned up in a newborn screening. In infancy, the brain is wired to learn, and learn quickly; they want Elliot experiencing the world of sound before his personal learning window narrows or closes.

A cochlear implant works through its three main parts – an external microphone, which picks up sound; a microprocessor, which codes the sound into a series of electrical impulses; and a wire that carries those impulses into the human cochlea, where they are sent to the brain and understood as sound. It is an imperfect way to hear, but an enormous improvement over conventional hearing aids.

And for an infant, whose brain is especially open to learning about sound and what sounds mean, it’s a golden opportunity, Amy believes.

“Who really knows if the way I hear is the way you hear,” she said. “The important thing is, we understand one another. . . . (People who’ve lost their hearing and then received cochlear implants) say that the voices sound like Darth Vader and Minnie Mouse at first, but you get used to them. And you recognize the voices as speech and know what they’re saying.”

Cochlear implant technology is advancing in huge strides, as well, Amy said. The latest implants represent enormous improvements over the earliest ones, and the technology itself is only a few years old. By Elliot’s adulthood, she hopes, the devices may be so small and so sophisticated that no one else need know a person is wearing one.

Many in the deaf community are opposed to the implants, particularly in children. Deafness, they believe, is not a condition to be cured but a trait of human diversity. Adults might choose CIs, but children should not have the choice imposed upon them. The Kwilinskis reject that argument.

“It’s much more difficult for a person to learn to process sound the older they are,” Amy said. “And for Elliot to talk until then, he’d have to use sign language. I want him to be able to communicate with everybody, and to choose any career he wants. What if he wants to be a surgeon? How can he work with his hands if he has to talk with them, too?”

The surgery is only the first step for Elliot. It’ll be a month before the device is activated, after which he will spend time with audiologists and speech therapists to calibrate and adjust it, effectively turning on an entirely new sense in a person who lacks any framework to understand it. After that, “it’ll be pretty noisy around here,” Amy said. She expects lots of crying, followed by sounds of delight.

“People who’ve done this with their toddlers say within a few days, the kids don’t want to take them off,” she said.

“We went to a convention (of cochlear implant recipients), and I sat there with tears in my eyes, watching these teen-agers talk to one another,” she said. “I know this is the right thing to do.”

Posted at 12:30 am in Ancient archives |

26 responses to “He hears.”

  1. Dexter said on June 10, 2013 at 1:57 am

    This is for long-deaf adults as well. Gil McDougal was a Yankee shortstop in 1955 when he was hit hard in the head by a batted baseball. As the years went on, he eventually, slowly, lost almost all his hearing and also all speech function. Here’s what happened:

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  2. alex said on June 10, 2013 at 8:09 am

    I can understand the fear and frustration in the deaf community and I empathize. Hypothetically, if it could be determined in utero that your child was going to be gay and that some sort of medical intervention could “fix” it, or if people were to start electively aborting gay babies, that would be a horrible thing for those of us who’ve invested our lives in raising consciousness and securing accommodation.

    At the same time, I don’t object to what the Kwilinski family is doing.

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  3. Deborah said on June 10, 2013 at 8:57 am

    Great post, loved it. Enjoy your vacation Nancy, if this is an indication of what we have to look forward to this week, yay! Alex, good point too.

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  4. A different Connie said on June 10, 2013 at 9:10 am

    This family stands in stark contrast to the lesbian moms in, I think, the D.C. area who conceived a deaf child with the help of a donor, then strove to conceive a second deaf child. They were adamant that the children would NOT be getting implants, or even technological support for the limited hearing they had, and were thrilled when they got confirmation that they had indeed achieved their version of “success” with the second child. Nothing wrong with alternative families, but when you celebrate your children’s disability (yes, as much as the deaf community pretends that it isn’t, but only an “identity”), there’s something quite warped about your perspective.

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  5. Julie Robinson said on June 10, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Music is where I live. It brings me joy and helps me organize both my thoughts and emotions. It runs so deeply through my soul that I would be incomplete without it. How could I dare deny that to someone else? How could any parent not want wholeness for their child?

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  6. brian stouder said on June 10, 2013 at 9:47 am

    A great story indeed. The deaf lifestyle folks are free to make their own decisions – similar to the Amish, really; but I almost (almost) think they go too far, when they advocate imposition of such a disadvantage on a child.

    But I thought mom’s point about how much more valuable it is to have this cochlear tool EARLY in their child’s development is unassailable.

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  7. MichaelG said on June 10, 2013 at 10:54 am

    This is basically the first time I find myself in disagreement with you, Alex. You are comparing apples and oranges. Sexual orientation is not a physical condition nor is it in any way a physical disability. Deafness is a physical condition and a disability despite what the idiot ‘diversity’ enthusiasts say. I think Julie illustrates it well. Any parent who wilfully decides not to help his or her child to realize the child’s full physical abilities is seriously delinquent if not criminally so. Refusing to help your child in the name of ‘diversity’ is child abuse plain and simple.

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  8. alex said on June 10, 2013 at 11:25 am

    MichaelG, I simply said that I empathize with the deaf community’s fears, not that I agree with them. And furthermore, it’s not like comparing apples and oranges.

    The deaf like to think of themselves as “differently abled.” They’ve fought long and hard to destigmatize deafness. It’s a natural condition. It’s how some people are born. So is being gay.

    And although homosexuality may not be a physical condition (actually the jury’s still out on that one — brain differences have been noted in cadavers), there are plenty of people who would regard it as a disability simply because of the social stigma that still exists. No parent wishes it on their child; even those who are enlightened fear for their gay child’s well being.

    I, too, happen to agree with Julie. I cannot imagine life without music and wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Of course, there are well-meaning folks who cannot imagine life without hetero sex, but I really don’t want their help. Not that they have anything real to offer.

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  9. brian stouder said on June 10, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Well, and not to digress – but I think Alex hits a key point there, at least as far as I understand:

    Homosexuality – being gay – isn’t about sex; or at least, that’s not the essence.

    Speaking for myself, I can say that heterosexual marriage ain’t about sex(!) – but instead, living out your life with another human being that you are 100% committed to, and who is likewise 100% “in” for you, too

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  10. brian stouder said on June 10, 2013 at 11:37 am

    (Rush Limbaugh, et al, always want to go straight to sex part, which is like skipping right to the photos in a book, and then not reading the book, and then declaring “Oh yeah – let me tell you about that”)

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  11. Prospero said on June 10, 2013 at 12:24 pm

    Points of view regarding cochlear implants from a publication of Gallaudet U, the citadel of the deaf community. A CI is a prosthesis, like an artificial limb, or corrective lenses for severe myopia. Does the deaf community component that opposes implants feel the same way about getting kids glasses. I understand commitment to “bilingualism”–ALS and spoken language– but if I grew up deaf and then found out about implants that would have allowed me to hear my childhood, that I was not availed of because of pressure from the deaf community, I’d be pissed off at everybody, including my parents, and particularly the busybodies. I remember my intense sense of wonder at what things really look like when I first got glasses at twelve yo. The idea that deafness is simply otherly-abled is silly, and cochlear implants don’t threaten anybody. I’m not joking, but the intrusive long noses of the deaf community remind me of people that feel it is their mission to pressure parents about circumcision. I’m glad my own was routine and not left to me as a painful adult decision.

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  12. coozledad said on June 10, 2013 at 12:50 pm

    I think most young couples would be horrified to learn their offspring might develop into Louis Gohmert. Fortunately their are programs that help young mothers wean themselves from huffing bug spray.

    Take it, Elvis

    Stupidity repeats its drab conceits
    The salt rubbed in the old defeats
    you sniff the finger you pulled out your ass
    When they disparaged your asparagus
    You’re just the greasy tart
    That defibrillates your party’s heart
    hanging with the questionably conscious

    You hang around dying to do some murder
    You’ll hardly be alone in Baptist purdah
    To the day you pilot your very own Pontius

    So In your almost empty brain cavern
    There’s a sticky concrete floor
    Where you yank your klavern

    You know they’ve got no sense
    don’t know how to make the money
    But when you milk their mules, there’s honey

    adding insult to battery
    Your labials moist with spittle
    Did you have to come so far to be little?

    And now you find that folks dismiss your stick reflex-ly
    You‘re scared you’ll drop the N-word
    Then It’s back to Tex-ly.

    You might make it B. Obama’s fault
    That you’re locked in West bumfuck with John Galt
    Just like root canals that let you keep some yo’ teef
    Your painful dumb defies belief

    Your hands are starting to shake some
    Perhaps you’ve noticed you’re irksome
    But I know you don’t indulge reflection
    You’re your party’s first call to dogwhistle
    So-called gentlemen and ladies
    Ride Dave Duke’s tiny pizzle

    I’ve got a feeling
    That you’re the dumbest man alive
    dropped straight from Bull Connor’s asshole
    Dancing for the ofay hive.

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  13. Prospero said on June 10, 2013 at 1:37 pm

    50 years ago today, JFK signed the Equal Pay Act. And today women still make 77cents for every dollar paid a man for doing the exact same job.
    Becausewomen don’t want equal pay laws. I’m sure she’d be fine with $134grand instead of $174grand. Right you jerk?

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  14. Prospero said on June 10, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    Strange concatenation of numbers. How would your typical Randian acolyte GOPer explain that the combined profits of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and BoA are almost exactly equal to their federal subsidies. It’s basically a direct transfer from American taxpayers to the too-big-to-fail banks. Oddly, and painfully , enough, it’s the same dollar amount as the sequester number the GOP embraced so gleefully. The hell with WIC, food stamps, and children starving in the most exceptional nation in human history, these bankers can’t afford the third country club. How much of this money is used for bonuses to reward a complete lack of competent performance on top of obscene salaries. How much makes it’s way to tellers and bank janitors. I know the answer to that one. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

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  15. Sherri said on June 10, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    There’s some math in here, but if you can look past that, it’s an interesting article about how metadata can be used to identify people of interest: http://kieranhealy.org/blog/archives/2013/06/09/using-metadata-to-find-paul-revere/

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  16. Julie Robinson said on June 10, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Who can follow Coozledad and hope for any cogency? Anyway, Google has a sweet doodle to commemorate Maurice Sendak today.

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  17. brian stouder said on June 10, 2013 at 3:31 pm

    Julie – it’s the same with lots of hit music, really (or to paraphrase: I know – it’s only Cooze & Pros, but I lIKE it!)

    Most of the women in our family are busily winging their way to see the Mouse in Florida…and Joe K – thanks for making me aware of Flight Aware

    Here’s the most important plane on Earth, at this moment, in my opinion.


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  18. Bob (not Greene) said on June 10, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    Prospero @14, when that dumbass Marsha Blackburn came out with that ridiculous statement, that was the first thing that crossed my mind. OK, lady, how about we start with your salary? Congenital stupidity.

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  19. Prospero said on June 10, 2013 at 4:47 pm

    Bob@18: And I’m sure she’d forego her Cadillac health care benefit to defeat Obamacare, because… Obama.

    Brian: From my one trip to Dizzyworld, I think the most valuable tip about Epcot is to go straight to the country pavillions to make lunch reservations in person. The entryway reservation center doan work for shite. And the biergarten at Germany is a lot of fun and good food. And in the busiest day of the year a few years ago, we rode Space Mountain without lines a few times by skipping the fireworks. The fireworks over the lake at Epcot are the closest thing most people will ever get to a war zone. It’s overkill, but it is also awe inspiring. Had a similar experience at a July 4th Dead concert at Foxboro Stadium. I love the smell of cordite at 2am.

    Who hit the nadir on the creepitude meter on Mad Men last night? Don, Pete, Bob Benson. I say Don has bottomed out and has screwed the pooch completely. But Bob is undeniably creepy and if you took the creep out of Pete, there’d be nothing left, like if $Palin actually worked her ass off, as she has claimed repeatedly.

    I wonder if anybody has ever seen Marsha Blackburn and Betty Bowers in the same place at the same time, because only in the New Testament according to Betty could you find scripture claiming that equal pay for equal work laws were somehow a handout to undeserving women.

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  20. Joe K said on June 10, 2013 at 4:58 pm

    Glad to see you using it Brian, my wife uses it to know where I’m at.
    Pilot Joe

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  21. JWfromNJ said on June 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    I like FlightAware for airport runs because inevitably I’m 2 hours from the airport I need to pick someone up at (now Orlando or Sanford, used to be Indy, before that LGA or Ewr). If the flight is about 2 hours out without a likely arrival delay I roll.

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  22. coozledad said on June 10, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    What a racist party does once it achieves power:

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  23. coozledad said on June 10, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    I’m sorry, make that THE racist party.

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  24. Prospero said on June 10, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    cooze@23 and 22: And they have the ultimate reactionary activist judges on the SC to hack away at voting rights.

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  25. Bitter Scribe said on June 10, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Hearing is one of the five senses. How could anyone not want to reverse the loss of that in their child? So-called deaf advocates are free to tell each other any nonsense they want but they really need to butt the hell out of this matter.

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  26. Kirk said on June 10, 2013 at 10:15 pm

    There used to be a lot of deaf printers at newspapers, dating to the days when linotype machines made composing rooms awfully noisy. We had a number of them here. I still don’t know sign language, but we figured out a way to communicate and get pages filled and closed. Some of those guys were kind of hard-core, as in “differently abled,” as opposed to considering it a handicap. Some weren’t. I enjoyed working with all of them.

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