Cochlear Implants Allow Deaf Family to Hear

ByABC News via logo

May 11, 2006 — -- Although Samantha McBride was born deaf, she can hear with the help of a magnet on one side of her head. Her curious kindergarten classmates like to pull the magnet off.

"I tell them, 'Don't take it off,' but they keep doing it," the 6-year-old said. "They want to know what it is."

Samantha has a cochlear implant, an electronic device surgically embedded in her inner ear that is connected to the magnet and a tiny microphone outside her ear that transmits sound into her brain.

Samantha's parents, Sarah and Todd, and her little brother, Tucker, are also deaf and use cochlear implants.

For the last five years, the McBrides have allowed "Good Morning America" to witness their slow immersion into the hearing world.

It was a heart-pounding moment when Sarah's cochlear implant was turned on and she could hear her parents say "I love you" for the first time. When Samantha's implant was turned on and her 2-year-old brain was filled with sound, her cries were music to her parents' own implanted ears -- proof she could hear.

"Good Morning America" was in the operating room when Sarah gave birth to Tucker, who was also deaf. Now, nearly three years later, he can hear and speak with the help of his implant better than when Samantha was the same age.

Despite critics in the deaf community who complain that implants are unnatural, the McBrides insist the devices have improved, and possibly saved, their lives.

"When Tucker, when he went across the street, and I yelled, 'Tucker! Stop!'," Sarah said through an interpreter. "Now he can hear me and stop."

Sarah and the two children are getting cochlear implants in their other ears, but Todd has decided not to.

"I don't need it," Todd said. "One's enough."

Dr. Joseph Roberson agrees that at Todd's age -- he'll be 43 next week -- another implant would not improve his hearing much. With double implants, the younger McBrides are expected to better understand the sound they already hear.

"The sound is louder. They can tell where sound is coming from," said Roberson who works out of the California Ear Institute. "They hear faster, if you will. They don't have that little lag as their brains figure out what that sound was."

A cochlear implant costs about $45,000, including the surgery.

The McBrides will have to wait three weeks after their surgery to turn on the second implant.

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