Children given the gift of hearing

Cinga Lande, 2, and Oyena Gulwa, 5, before their operation.

A five-year-old boy from Philippi and a two-year-old girl from Delft will be able to listen to bedtime stories, their friends’ laughter, their parents’ praise, music, birdsong and everything else the hearing take for granted, thanks to the cochlear implants they received last week.

Oyena Gulwa, 5, and Cinga Lande, 2, were given sponsorships for the implants from N1 City Hospital, where the operations were done, and an international investment holding company.

Professor James Loock, an ear, nose and throat surgeon from the Department of Otorhinolaryngology at Tygerberg Hospital’s Stellenbosch University Cochlear Implant Unit, performed the procedure for free. One device costs about R272 000.

Oyena’s father, Zukisane Silwane, said the family are very grateful to everyone who helped with his son’s journey to sound. Oyena has been responding well since the procedure.

“We are now just waiting for the healing process, so that they can switch on Oyena’s cochlear,” said Mr Silwane.

Shortly after his third birthday in September 2014, Oyena started crying and holding his head. Mr Silwane and his wife had no idea what was wrong, and when the child didn’t stop crying, they rushed him to the doctor.

When the doctor told the Silwane’s their son might have meningitis, they took him to Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital.

Tests revealed he didn’t have the illness. Instead, he was deaf. The family were referred to an audiologist who told them their son was profoundly deaf in his left ear and slightly deaf in the other.

Siyabulela Dyonase, father of 2-year-old Cinga, said everything seemed fine with her until she was five months old.

Then they learnt she had been born deaf in one ear. Doctors referred Cinga to Red Cross where she got a hearing aid. But by the time she was 15 months old, it was no longer helping.

“When she turned one year’s old, there was still no progress. She still couldn’t speak. All we heard was mumbling,” said Mr Dyonase. An audiologist, Surida Booysen, told them Cinga was deaf in both ears and needed an implant.

Ms Booysen, who works at the Cochlear Implant Unit at Tygerberg Hospital, met Cinga in April.

She describes her as a lovable and happy child.

Her communication had improved since April, even though she could not hear or speak yet.

“I am very hopeful that Cinga will have a good future. Certain factors will determine the outcome of the implant, but in Cinga’s case she is still very young, and that remains a positive in her journey.

“Her engaging personality will definitely make the hard rehabilitation process easier.”

Cinga’s parents are relieved she has a chance at going through life with all her senses.

“We are very happy, and we thank God and all the people who have supported us through this difficult time and made this gift possible for Cinga,” said Mr Dyonase.

Professor Loock said each patient reacted differently to a cochlear implant and the success of the operation depended on how well they responded to both the procedure itself and all-important follow-up therapies.