After Ahavah Cook’s baby, Elijah, was diagnosed with profound hearing loss shortly after his birth, the Andover, Minn., mom thought she’d never hear sweet coos and sounds produced by her beautiful newborn.
Elijah Cook was born Jan. 2 at Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. Twelve hours later, he failed his newborn hearing screening. Nurses downplayed the result, reassuring Ahavah and husband Jason that it was common for babies to fail the first hearing test only to pass the 24-hour follow-up exam.
But that, and a third test with an audiologist, yielded the same result.
“We could see there was a good chance that he wouldn’t pass additional tests,” Ahavah said. Though she and Jason had been optimistic, the couple knew that hearing challenges were a possibility with their son. Both of their mothers and fathers are deaf, and Jason has no hearing in his left ear. “When Elijah came back (from the first test), we were expecting good news because we have almost a dozen nieces and nephews that have no hearing issues.”
After the three failed tests, the Cooks were referred to the developmental and rehabilitation program at Children’s Specialty Center, connected to Children’s – Minneapolis. There the Cooks met with Lori Johnson, AuD, for another hearing exam.
“We had a lot of time to ask questions,” Ahavah said, “and from that moment all of our worries went away.” Though the Cooks didn’t get the results they wanted, Ahavah said, they felt more knowledgeable about Elijah’s diagnosis, which is severe-profound sensorineural hearing loss. While it is likely genetic, upcoming tests will confirm that.
“Lori has been great. Overall, I give her a 20 out of 10,” Jason said. “She answered all of our questions and gave us more time than was allotted.”
On March 5, Johnson fit then-9-week-old Elijah with tiny hearing aids that allowed him to hear his mother — and the world — for the first time. The moment was captured on video.
“The first time I saw him blink, I had a lot of emotions,” Ahavah said. “I was trying really hard not to cry. I didn’t want him to see me cry. I was trying hard to keep it together and just talk to him.”
Since then, Elijah has been cooing, smiling and responding to the sounds made by his family, including big sister Evelyn, 7.
“The cooing is the big thing,” Jason said. “He wasn’t very talkative, but ever since he was fitted for his hearing aids he’s cooing more, he pays more attention.”
The goal for audiologists is to have infants with hearing loss fit with hearing aids when they’re a couple weeks or months old. If babies don’t pass their initial and follow-up screenings, and get referred to Children’s immediately, it’s common to be fit at 2 or 2½ months. Elijah was fitted early because of his family history and parents’ timely follow-up, Johnson said. The youngest child she has fit with hearing aids was 2 weeks old.
“The hard part with Elijah and the severity of his hearing loss is you really don’t know (if he can hear) until he can give you cues — looking around for sound, searching with his eyes,” Johnson said. “Computer technology lets us know if he should be able to hear sounds.
“Once he’s sitting up, at around 7-month age, we’ll know for certain what he’s hearing with the hearing aids on as he will be able to respond for a behavioral hearing test, and that’s true for any child with any degree of hearing loss.”
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Early diagnosis and fitting combined with the technology and medical procedures available today — hearing aids, cochlear implants and bone conduction hearing aids — allows children with hearing loss a life with limitless possibilities.
Johnson said any child diagnosed with hearing loss and fit with hearing aids before 3 or 6 months can do anything as long as hearing-aid use is consistent.
“The big thing to take away in the case of Elijah and every other case is the earlier we can get diagnosis and family into early intervention and get started, you can have some really great outcomes,” she said. “But it’s really about the early detection piece of it.”
Jason and Ahavah said their experience growing up in the deaf community and seeing struggles will provide their son advantages. Many of their family members are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and are helping educate and sign to Elijah.
“Every parent wants the best for their kid. I just want to be able to equip him to handle life’s challenges,” Jason said. “I want to make sure he can overcome them and succeed.”
The Cooks encourage others with children born with hearing loss not to wait to do early invention and evaluation.
“Let other people help you because it’s overwhelming,” Ahavah said. “There are a lot of additional appointments. Get the help that you need.”
“I kind of lost hope that I would get that milestone,” Ahavah said, “but it’s pretty cool that the hearing aid is able to help us bring it back.”
“That’s really the reason why I do my job; it’s for the parents who have children with a hearing loss and want their kids to develop speech and language,” Johnson said. “My goal is to give that to parents whenever possible.”
Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota has audiology services through ear, nose, throat (ENT) and facial plastic surgery as well as the developmental rehabilitation program. Children’s has comprehensive care for hearing loss, from screenings to hearing-aid fittings to cochlear-implant surgery through follow-up audiology and speech pathology.