Oregon City Boy Becomes One of the Youngest Oregonians to Receive a Cochlear Implant

04/23/01    Portland, Ore.

Community support made implant possible

Eighteen-month-old Jeremiah Wolter of Oregon City may hear for the first time this week, thanks to an anonymous donor, Oregon Health Sciences University's (OHSU) Child Development and Rehabilitation Center and the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation (OLSHF). Jeremiah was born with profound hearing loss. This collaborative effort made it possible for Jeremiah to have a cochlear implant system surgically implanted in his ear at OHSU's Doernbecher Children's Hospital on March 21, 2001, making him one of the youngest people to receive an implant in Oregon. On Tuesday, April 24 his cochlear implant will be turned on for the first time.

Don Plapinger, Ed.D., director of Doernbecher's Audiology Clinic said the fact that Jeremiah's hearing loss was diagnosed at birth will make a huge impact on his ability to learn to speak. "The younger we implant, the better the outcome. And with Jeremiah being one of the youngest implanted children at OHSU, his prognosis is excellent. He has a good chance of having very normal spoken language skills by the time he reaches kindergarten."

Physicians believe that the tiny hair cells that line Jeremiah's inner ear and the cochlea are damaged. These hair cells create the electrical impulses that are sent to the brain to become words. Even with the help of hearing aids, which Jeremiah has worn since he was 7 weeks old, his brain does not receive enough information for him to be able to speak. Physicians hope this implant will act like normal hair cells by creating electrical stimulation to the nerve endings in the cochlea so that Jeremiah's brain can react, allowing him to perceive sound.

Jeremiah has learned how to sign 97 words and communicates very efficiently. Because Jeremiah's hearing loss was detected at birth, his parents, Bill and Loralee, had ample time to research the various options available for their son. After months of deliberation, they decided a cochlear implant would give Jeremiah another communication option.

"We understand that this is not a cure for deafness, but we are excited that our son will have an opportunity to learn spoken language since that's the language of the society he was born in. If we moved to Ecuador, we'd want him to learn Spanish," said Loralee. "It is also important to us that he build strong relationships with our families, none of whom sign and most of whom live in other states." Bill added that they believe it will give Jeremiah more access to all aspects of the English language, both socially and academically. They also will continue to teach him sign language, so that he can be bilingual. The Wolters know that it will take a lot of time and effort to teach him to listen and learn to speak, but they are up to the challenge and confident in his success.

The Wolter's insurance did not cover the tremendous cost of the implant, so they turned to the OLSHF for assistance. An anonymous donor heard about the family's situation and offered to pay for the cost of the implant device. The OLSHF and a program at OHSU's Child Development and Rehabilitation Center for children with special health care needs, helped supplement the rest of the cost.

The OLSHF is a nonprofit organization that was founded in 1959 "to improve the quality of life in the areas of sight, hearing, diabetes and positive youth development." The foundation serves all Oregonians, not just other Lions, through 186 Lions Clubs located throughout the state. The Patient Care Program of the OLSHF provides financial assistance to low-income Oregonians for various eye and ear surgeries. The program operates on donations from the Lions Clubs of Oregon and other individual donations made to the OLSHF. "This is a wonderful thing for a wonderful boy, and the Lions have made part of this possible; it's great to be a Lion," said Scott Maguire, CEO of the Oregon Lions Sight and Hearing Foundation.

"The cochlear implant is a wonderful device and we're very thankful for it and for all the people who have made this possible," said Loralee. "It certainly was a group effort!"