Cochlear implants – a life-changing device

A GOSH patient with her mum.
The multidisciplinary Cochlear Implant team at Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH) help children and their families who undergo assessment, surgery and rehabilitation for cochlear implants.

The team includes staff from audiologists and ear, nose and throat surgeons, to clinical psychologists and speech and language therapists. Since the Cochlear Implant Programme was set up at GOSH 25 years ago, the team have implanted more than 1,100 ears.

What is a cochlear implant?

A cochlear implant is a small, electronic device that helps to replace the function of a damaged inner ear, or cochlea. In most cases, hearing loss is caused by damaged hair cells in the cochlea, which are responsible for carrying the sound signals to the brain.

Unlike hearing aids, which make sound louder, cochlear implants do the work of damaged parts of the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain. While cochlear implants don’t ‘cure’ deafness, they can significantly improve a child’s ability to hear.

Shabana and Aminah’s story

Four-year-old Aminah is one of up to 70 children every year who receive cochlear implants at GOSH. Aminah and her mum, Shabana, were both born deaf. Shabana has spent years using hearing aids, but after seeing the improvement that the cochlear implant made to her daughter’s quality of life, she was moved to have implants herself at her local hospital. 

“We really wanted Aminah to have a cochlear implant to aid her hearing,” says Shabana. “We wanted to encourage her to talk as soon as possible, and we discovered when we were referred to GOSH that they’re much better than hearing aids. 

“Seeing the benefits that the implants brought to Aminah helped me to decide to have them myself. I don’t particularly like hearing aids – I’m not able to recognise people’s voices and there’s a constant whistling. I had it switched on last year, and it’s been absolutely fantastic to be able to hear things I wasn’t able to before. 
“It’s been really brilliant with the cochlear implant, so I’ve thrown away my hearing aids now!”

Learning important skills

“We’ve been coming to the hospital regularly since Aminah was a baby. It’s a fantastic place – we’ve had a really positive experience. Aminah likes GOSH – although she has to have a lot of listening tests when we’re here! I’ve been really surprised and happy with her progress. And she really likes the staff and using the toys to play with them.

“The Cochlear Implant team have been great in terms of encouraging us and helping us with schools. They’ve put us in touch with other children who have cochlear implants too.

“Even though Aminah has cochlear implants, we decided we wanted to teach her British Sign Language alongside spoken English and Urdu at home (both of which she speaks very clearly). I think it’s better for her to learn about the words that she needs to say for her lip reading and aural skills. On top of that, we thought it was important for her to have access to sign language to aid her development.”

Recognising my daughter’s voice

“I’m really happy with my cochlear implants. When I go to the shops, I might meet new people and now I can communicate better with them – I don’t have to rely only on lip reading and I don’t have to focus so much on their face.

“Sometimes, my daughter will call ‘mummy’, and I can recognise through the cochlear implants that she’s calling my name rather than having to look at her face so much to know that she’s communicating with me. The same applies to going to school meetings and out and about. I can actually recognise people’s voices and sounds a lot better."

Deaf Awareness Week

From 15 to 21 May, Deaf Awareness Week is celebrating the collaborative work that has made a difference for people who are deaf or having a hearing loss. “When anyone who is speaking to someone who is deaf or has hearing loss,” says Shabana, “I would say to be aware of always maintaining eye contact so that a deaf person can lip read you.”

Find out more about GOSH’s Cochlear Implant Programme on the hospital website.