As Kathy Stride talks on the phone, her 2-year-old daughter, Kayleigh, is giggling in the background, asking questions and talking up a storm.
It’s the best kind of interruption this particular mom could ask for.
When Kayleigh was born at Kaiser Moanalua Medical Center in 2008, she went through the usual hearing screening. The tests showed she had profound hearing loss. She could hear only very loud sounds, but not clearly.
Kathy, who works in Kaiser’s ultrasound department, and her husband, Raymond, who works for Young Bros., were not prepared for the news.
"We didn’t know anything about this," Kathy said. "We had to start learning from the beginning."
Kayleigh started wearing hearing aids as an infant. Only the least expensive hearing aids were covered by insurance, so the Stride family paid $4,000 out of pocket for higher-quality hearing aids for their baby girl. Add to that all the expensive accouterments required with hearing aids: the tape to stick them behind her tiny ears, the dryer to keep them from being damaged by moisture … "That first year was hard," Kathy said. "We didn’t even have a 1-year birthday party."
The Strides learned Kayleigh was a good candidate for cochlear implants. The surgically implanted device, sometimes called a "bionic ear," can provide a sense of sound to a person with profound hearing loss. Unlike a hearing aid, an implant does not amplify sound, but directly stimulates the auditory nerve. The result is not exactly like normal hearing, but allows the user to hear conversation, enjoy music, talk on the phone and so forth.
Until recently the operation was usually done on only one ear. Kayleigh’s first implant was put in when she was a year old. It was such a success, her second implant was done six months later. She is the first bilateral implant recipient at Kaiser.
After the first operation, Kayleigh stayed in the hospital overnight and recovered so well, she took her first toddler steps the next day. For the second surgery she was able to go home the same day.
Once the implants are in place, the patient is given a month to heal before the processor is turned on. Then, during a "mapping period" that takes several months, the frequency is gradually turned up.
"The first time Kayleigh could hear a dog bark, she was laughing!" Kathy said.
Kayleigh’s brother Bryson, now 12, wrote a book about Kayleigh’s experience that he titled "My Deaf Sister," and which ends with the line, "I thank the staff at Kaiser Permanente and our Heavenly Father for giving Kayleigh back her hearing."
As for those $4,000 hearing aids, Kayleigh does not need them anymore. But Kathy knows there is always someone who does.
"We were at a restaurant, and we got to talking to a college-age girl who worked there," Kathy said. "She said she can’t hear very well, and she works as a waitress, taking orders by lip reading."
The young woman could not afford hearing aids, so the Strides gave her Kayleigh’s. "She’s going to school and struggling," Kathy said of the waitress. "We know how hard it is."