Rida was staring blankly at the laptop. Our chatter had no affect on her concentration. The audiologist, Dr Sajid Yaqub, was adjusting volume through his laptop. Suddenly her eyes started gleaming as if she was experiencing something unusual. I deliberately dropped my pen and to my amazement, she followed the sound. Her mother shouted in joy ‘Usayawaz aa rahi hai!’
Three-and-a-half year old Rida was sitting in her father’s lap and her mother was sitting next to them. They were at the Physical Rehabilitation Center of the Indus Hospital to get the cochlear implant activated. Rida is the second child of Ahmed and Shazia, a middle class couple, residing in Gulistan-e Jauhar, Karachi. They got married 10 years ago, and welcomed their first daughter in the second year of marriage. Rida is five years younger than her elder sister. Apparently, Rida was healthy but Shazia observed that she neither responded to any voice nor made any sounds.
Parents thought that she might take a little longer than other children but her listening and speaking skills did not improve with time. They consulted doctors and found out that Rida had congenital hearing and speech impairment and the only treatment was a cochlear implant. To their horror, Government hospitals did not offer it and private hospitals were charging around two million rupees. Ahmed – a shopkeeper by profession – could not afford such a costly treatment. By the age of two, Rida started going to a pre-nursery school and was performing okay but it was obvious that she would not be able to excel in her studies until she could hear and speak properly.
While Ahmed and Shazia were searching for an inexpensive option, they found out that the Indus Hospital provided free of cost cochlear implants. It was a dream come true for them. Feeling blessed, they rushed to the hospital and after one year of thorough consultation and treatment, Rida was operated. Six weeks after the surgery she gained hearing. She will undergo a speech training session, and after that she would start speaking.
Senior ENT consultant and Head of the ENT department at the Indus Hospital, Dr Anjum Naveed says that they preferred young children for cochlear implant as they were more receptive and showed quick progress in developing speaking skills. Children with hearing deficit are given free hearing aids and speech therapy. “We also interview parents and see if they are concerned about their child’s health and education and are willing to put more effort into it”, Dr Naveed emphasized.
The cochlear implants are very expensive. IMRA (International Medical Relief Agency), a London based INGO, annually donates 10 cochlear implants. “IMRA also arranges ENT surgeon to help Indus in cochlear implant surgery and to train our surgeons. So far more than 40 patients have benefitted from this service”.
Dr Naveed also informed that Indus is the first Pakistani institute to carry out free Otoacoustic Emission (OAE) test for all children born at the Indus Hospital. If a child is diagnosed with hearing disability he/she gets free hearing aids first. After further assessment they are registered for cochlear implant.
Shazia and Ahmed were elated to see their daughter listening and responding. They are looking forward to the day when Rida would be able to speak like normal children. In order to pay back to the Indus Hospital, the couple has decided to help generate Zakat and donations from their family and friends.
* Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.