Jiya Bavishi was born deaf. For five years, she couldn’t hear and she couldn’t speak at all. But when I first meet her, all she wants to do is say hello. The 6-year-old is bouncing around the room at her speech therapy session in Dallas. She’s wearing a bright pink top; her tiny gold earrings flash as she waves her arms.
“Hi,” she says, and then uses sign language to ask who I am and talk about the ice cream her father bought for her.
Jiya is taking part in a clinical trial testing a new hearing technology. At 12 months, she was given a cochlear implant. These surgically implanted devices send signals directly to the nerves used to hear. But cochlear implants don’t work for everyone, and they didn’t work for Jiya.
“The physician was able to get all of the electrodes into her cochlea,” says Linda Daniel, a certified auditory-verbal therapist and rehabilitative audiologist with HEAR, a rehabilitation clinic in Dallas. Daniel has been working with Jiya since she was a baby. “However, you have to have a sufficient or healthy auditory nerve to connect the cochlea and the electrodes up to the brainstem.”
Jiya’s connection between the cochlea and the brainstem was too thin. There was no way for sounds to make that final leg of the journey and reach her brain.
Usually, the story would end here. If cochlear implants don’t work, you turn to sign language. And the Bavishis did — for years they communicated with their daughter through sign language. But then they heard about an experimental procedure called an auditory brainstem implant.
To read the rest of this article, published in NPR, please click here.