Hearing just fine – with a little help
Caiden Pinero playfully ran away from his mom, stopping every couple of feet. At every stop, he would turn back and exclaim, “Mommy, I can still hear you!”
“I’ll always remember that day,” says 6-year-old Caiden’s mom, Courtney Derr of Allentown. The date: March 22, 2017. The place: The office of Lehigh Valley Health Network (LVHN) audiologist Alicia Kittle, who had just activated Caiden’s bone-anchored hearing aid, or BAHA. The hearing device is mounted on a magnet which attaches to a surgically implanted base just above his ear.
Caiden was 2-years-old when he was diagnosed with profound unilateral sensorineural hearing loss, or single-sided deafness, in his right ear. “He needed ear tubes for chronic ear infections before he turned a year old,” Derr says. “I did too when I was that age, and so did Daniel (Caiden’s 10-year-old brother). We noticed Caiden wouldn’t respond when we spoke to him on his right side, so I decided to get it checked out.”
Caiden’s hearing options evolve over time
Derr connected with pediatric otolaryngology surgeon Sri Chennupati, MD, who was based in Philadelphia at the time. Chennupati joined Lehigh Valley Children’s Hospital last year and is now based at LVPG Pediatric Surgical Specialties.
“Initially, we gave Caiden a headband with the hearing aid attached clipped to that,” Chennupati says. “That worked well for a while, but the aid has to remain just above the affected ear to work and as Caiden got older and more active, his mom wanted to move to the surgical solution.”
Derr says the word “active” doesn’t really describe Caiden accurately.
“I call him my wild child,” Derr says. “He’s always flying around doing something. The headband was always moving around, it was frustrating him.”
Patients have to reach the age of 5 before they’ve developed enough physically for the surgical BAHA option to become available. When Caiden reached that age, Derr was thrilled to find out Chennupati had moved to LVHN, 10 minutes from her home.
“Caiden loves Dr. Chennupati and wouldn’t have been comfortable with anyone else doing the surgery,” Derr says.
BAHA lets Caiden play with few limits
Chennupati performed the 45-minute outpatient BAHA procedure on Feb. 10. A magnetic transmitter about the size of a quarter is implanted into the bone about an inch above and behind the top of the ear. Externally, a battery-powered hearing aid (about the size of a small raisin box) magnetically attaches to the transmitter. The hearing aid streams sound waves to the base which then transmits sound to the brain. Since the affected ear can’t do anything with sound waves, the brain actually receives them from the good ear, which the brain can decode as coming from the other side.
“It works quite well most of the time,” Chennupati says. “Caiden has to remove the external hearing aid for certain activities. He can’t take karate classes or play football with it attached for example. He merely takes it off in those situations. Otherwise it’s always there for him and from all indications he really loves it.”
With BAHA, Caiden “hears great”
“Following the surgery, we waited for the swelling to recede before he came in to have the BAHA device programmed,” Kittle says. That took about six weeks.
“Once in use, the battery lasts about three days before it needs to be changed. There are still some challenges to overcome, such as processing speech in difficult listening environments – walking down a noisy hallway at school for example. But those kinds of challenges are there for children with two good ears too. In time the brain adapts,” Kittle says.
Many children may choose to grow their hair a little longer to cover the hearing aid. Not Caiden.
“I like it,” he says. “I like to show my friends the scar from the operation too. What’s best is I can hear great now because of Dr. Chennupati and Dr. Kittle.”