When Marni and Derek sang “Happy Birthday” to their daughter Livi on her first birthday, they knew she could hear their familiar voices. They had gathered at home with Livi’s brother and grandparents, and Livi took in the singing while she nibbled on a piece of cake and smiled.
It was a triumphant moment in a year-long medical journey for the family. After Livi was born with moderate to severe hearing loss in both ears, her parents wondered whether she would ever be able to hear them clearly.
In the months following Livi’s birth, Marni and Derek sought help. They consulted with specialists from multiple health systems, all while navigating the “new normal” of the COVID-19 pandemic. Their search led them to a multi-disciplinary team of audiologists and pediatric ear, nose, and throat specialists at Minnesota Lions Children's Hearing and ENT Clinic across the street from M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.
In April, Livi underwent a bilateral cochlear implant surgery led by M Health Fairview Pediatric Otolaryngologist Luke Jakubowski, MD. Just one month earlier, the FDA had approved lowering the minimum age for cochlear implantation from 12 months to nine months for children like Livi who have bilateral, profound sensorineural hearing loss.
“We know earlier cochlear implantation procedures can lead to better outcomes for children,” Jakubowski said. “In this case, the surgery has put Livi on track to develop speech and language patterns similar to those developed by other children who have not experienced hearing loss.”
After a short recovery period, Audiologist Kristin Gravel, AuD, CCC-A, PASC activated Livi’s implants, and Livi heard her mother’s voice for the first time.
“It was magic,” Marni said. “It was the most beautiful moment of my life. And every day after that has been a miracle.”
At home, Livi continues daily speech and hearing exercises provided by Speech Pathologist Katie Warne, CCC-SLP, LSLS Cert. AVT. The family relies on customized programs, designed by Gravel and stored in the sound processors, to determine the range and level of sounds that Livi receives through her cochlear implants. Livi’s parents can monitor her usage rates and battery life for their daughter’s cochlear implant through a smartphone app. These features, paired with her parents’ observations of how she is hearing and speaking, help her care team understand the progress she is achieving.
Marni sometimes whispers to Livi to see if her daughter will notice her voice, and Livi now responds to even the smallest sounds. At their last appointment with Gravel, Livi’s care team confirmed that she can detect the entire range of frequencies needed for typical speech development.
When the COVID-19 pandemic threatened to interrupt Livi’s care, her M Health Fairview team got creative. Typical clinic visits for speech therapy involved Livi’s observation of Warne’s facial movements, but precautionary masks and face shields created a barrier to that therapy. They resolved to move to virtual video appointments when possible so Livi could observe those visual cues safely and without a precautionary mask getting in the way.
Like most 1-year-olds, Livi spent her first birthday laughing and playing with her big brother. At the same time, Marni and Derek reflected on their family’s journey over the last year.
“We played music and danced, and had the day together that any family would want,” Marni said. “It’s a gift for Livi to be where she is now and to imagine how far she’ll go.”