By Catherine Rivett

The first inkling we had that Charlotte had hearing difficulties was during the newborn screening in hospital. She passed on her right side but failed on her left.

The nurses tried to assure my husband Tim and I that this was common and the result of a fluid build-up which, if it was, would resolve.

We had Charlotte tested again a week or so later and the result was conclusive – Charlotte had a mild to moderate hearing loss in her right ear and a profound loss in her left ear.

When Charlotte was born, she spent five days in special care as it was discovered she was having difficulty breathing through her nose.

We didn’t know until then, but newborns cannot breathe out of their mouths until around 12 months of age, so it was critical that further tests were undertaken to find out what was occurring.

Living in Yeppoon, Charlotte and I were flown via the Royal Flying Doctors Service to what was then Lady Cilento (now Queensland Children’s Hospital), where Charlotte underwent MRI imaging.

The MRI not only showed a blocked right nasal passage and a narrow left nasal passage (thus explaining her occasional difficulty breathing) but also showed an absent left auditory nerve.

Catherine’s daughter was fitted with a hearing aid at two months old.

Charlotte underwent several surgeries during the months that we were in Brisbane, all within four months of her birth, to help rectify her breathing problems.

Charlotte’s father Tim and I always thought that deafness could be assisted through hearing aids or cochlear implants, and whilst that is often the way, it unfortunately wasn’t the case for Charlotte’s left side due the absent auditory nerve.

And so, at two months of age, Charlotte was fitted with a hearing aid on her right ear to ensure as much access to sound as possible, and we started our journey with worldclass Queensland not-for-profit Hear and Say who helps teach hearing impaired Queenslanders how to hear, listen and speak.

The initial months of Charlotte’s life were traumatic for our family, and certainly not what we had dreamed of when planning for our much longed-for first-born child.

Earlier this year, Charlotte unexpectedly lost the hearing in her only hearing ear, her right ear.

We must have looked like a ‘deer in headlights’ during our first appointment, but the team at Hear and Say couldn’t have helped more.

We started with tele-practice lessons which enabled us to remote-in from Yeppoon. These initial listening and spoken language lessons were aimed at educating us as parents about how we could improve Charlotte’s access to sound and ensure she progressed and developed at the same rate as her peers.

As a first-time mother, I was so appreciative of the weekly, and then fortnightly lessons, as our wonderful speech pathologist was able to guide me on age-appropriate books and activities.

Everything was smooth sailing for two years and Charlotte was talking even more than hearing children of her age (we were of course absolutely thrilled), then one day in March this year (2021), Charlotte unexpectedly lost the hearing in her only hearing ear, her right ear.

A cold was the likely cause of Charlotte’s sudden onset hearing loss.

Sudden onset hearing loss is more common that you think, but never did we expect it to happen to our beautiful two-year-old who had already overcome so many obstacles and still had a lifelong hearing impairment with her left ear.

A cold is the likely cause of her hearing loss – we would never have thought a simple virus could cause such a permanent life-altering impairment. Charlotte became profoundly deaf overnight and wasn’t at an age where we could explain what had happened.

It was devastating to our family and completely traumatic for Charlotte who had no understanding as to what was happening and lost her ability to communicate. Having had a child who was speaking and listening so well, to suddenly having no access to sound, really highlighted to us all how important hearing is to a child’s development and communication.

Four months after losing her hearing, Tim and I decided that Charlotte would receive a cochlear implant (CI) on her able-to-be-implanted right side.

After a nervous wait, Charlotte was switched-on in July, eight days post-surgery. Our family and friends were allowed to remote in through ZOOM to watch the switch-on due to COVID restrictions.

There are no words to describe the relief and happiness that Tim and I felt watching our child have access to sound again. It’s now been almost three-months since switch-on and Charlotte is exceeding all our expectations and doing exceptionally well.

WATCH the incredible video below of Charlotte being able to hear again. 

Hear and Say is calling on the community to help give children born deaf the gift of sound by getting involved in Loud Shirt Day, the charity’s annual fundraiser that encourages the community to wear a bright shirt and donate to raise vital funds and awareness for children with hearing loss.

To donate, visit Hear and Say.