Olympian Dreams Deaf Son Hears Cheers

ByABC News via logo
January 28, 2006, 4:30 PM

Jan. 29, 2006 — -- As Vonetta Flowers gears up for an attempt to win another bobsledding gold medal at this year's Olympics in Turin, Italy, she anxiously awaits the results of a delicate and risky operation that would allow her 3-year-old son to hear the cheers.

Young Jorden had micro-electrodes implanted in his brain stem that may allow him to hear for the first time in his life. He appears to be reacting and doing fine.

Doctors said the micro-electrodes in his brain stem seem to be stimulating the auditory part of his brain, and along with his parents they are convinced he can hear. But they added Jorden is unaccustomed to sound and cannot fully understand the new, unfamiliar impulses he is feeling.

"I did see him responding to some sound, and you know, when the device fell off his head, it was like, 'Where did the sound go?' " Flowers said. "So that was very encouraging, just because we know that he's hearing something."

"We dream of him hearing our voices and saying mommy and daddy," said Flowers, who first came to Italy to participate in the Olympics.

It was a coincidence that she found a hospital that would perform the operation.

"These electrodes elicited wonderful potential," said Dr. Vittorio Colletti. "Very good potential."

This past week, Jorden underwent another operation to fine-tune the device before it is turned on.

He and his twin brother, Jaden, were born just months after Flowers won the gold medal in the bobsled at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. Jorden was born without the nerve that transmits sound to the brain.

His parents thought Jorden would be deaf for life, until they learned that doctors at University Hospital in Verona, Italy, could perform a rare auditory brain-stem implant, an operation not approved in the United States for children.

"Without this surgery, he can't hear," said Johnny Flowers, the boys' father. "This is his last option. There is no other choice but for him to have this."

After the operation, the Flowerses returned home to Birmingham, Ala. In the coming months, they will gradually turn up the volume. So maybe, when Vonetta Flowers competes in the coming weeks, Jorden will be able to hear the national anthem being played and cheer for his mother.

"We're getting excited about it," Flowers said. "Of course, this is our son, we love him. We want him to hear, but if Jorden's story can inspire other people, other families that have lost hope, that's what it's all about."