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100 reasons to smile as hospital marks massive milestone

Published:  15 September 2022

Townsville University Hospital’s (TUH) Audiology team has hit a century as the team celebrates 100 cochlear implants since the service launched seven years ago.

Audiologist Dr Sreedevi Aithal said the milestone was massive for the team which worked to improve outcomes for deaf or hearing-impaired children and adults.

“Our audiology department cares for both children and adult patients from right across North Queensland, up to Cape York and out west to Mount Isa,” Dr Aithal said.

“We began offering the cochlear implant service in 2015 and have been saving our implant recipients routine trips to Brisbane for the surgery and the follow up appointments.

“Reaching our 100th implant is a big milestone for us and the community.”

Surgeon Dr Shane Anderson fitted one-year-old Elizabeth Anchen with a bilateral implant in August. 

Her surgery was the team’s 100th completed by the Townsville Hospital and Health Service.

Elizabeth was just a few months old when she was diagnosed at the Townsville University Hospital (TUH) audiology department with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD), a rare type of hearing loss that occurs when the ear does not transmit soundwaves correctly.

Her mum Sarah Anchen said Elizabeth was born premature and that doctors at TUH realised her hearing was not functioning correctly when the family was discharged from the special care nursery.

“BB was born at 33 weeks plus one day and was being looked after at the NICU and special care nursery,” Sarah said.

“On her discharge they did the newborn hearing screening when she was about a month-old, by hospital-based healthy hearing program, and she failed.

“She has a profound loss of hearing in both ears, so she cannot hear a thing and even if she could hear, her nerves inside of her ear misfire, so she is not able to process sound in the same way we can.”

Dr Aithal became involved when little Elizabeth failed her second newborn hearing test. She said research shows amazing results for young patients when they receive a cochlear implant early.

“If we give deaf children the device really early then there is no difference in their development compared to children who can hear,” she said.

“We have had quite a few children through our program who are now at the top of their class and doing excellent in their academic or musical studies.”

The ANSD diagnosis was a shock for Elizabeth’s parents, Sarah and Louis who have started Auslan classes with their two other children to make sure they can always communicate with their little girl, even if her cochlear implant is turned off.

Elizabeth’s implant will be turned on for the first time today. 

Dr Aithal said this could be the first time she is able to hear her parents' voices or the noise of her rambunctious siblings.

“Elizabeth’s implanted device artificially stimulates the part of the ear that processes soundwaves and feeds the message into the brain to help her interpret sound,” she said.

“For children as young as Elizabeth the implant could have a lifechanging impact and potentially help her develop the ability to speak.

“Reaching our 100th implant is a big milestone for us and the community.”

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