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Surgery gives deaf girl a voice

 Leia Armitage with a mum and a teacher
Leia Armitage with a mum and a teacher Image credit: bbc.co.uk

A few weeks ago Leia Armitage told her parents she loved them for the very first time.

The Seven-year-old who has hearing loss has never been able to speak, but thanks to pioneering brain surgery and therapy the little girl from east London has been able to utter her first words to mum and dad.

Because she was born without an inner ear or hearing nerves it was pointless Leia being fitted with hearing devices or cochlear implants.

The NHS were reluctant to give the girl an auditory brainstem implant, but they eventually agreed to her parents’ wishes and determination when Leia was two years old.

Surgeons inserted a device into Leia’s brain to stimulate the damaged hearing pathways.

The patient was then given a microphone and sound processor which she wears on the side of he head which transmits sound to the implant.

Calling the procedure “truly life-changing” the health service has now agreed to carry out the process for more youngsters with a similar condition.

Parents Bob and Alison were hopeful when their daughter underwent surgery at Guy’s and Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust although they were shocked how effective the treatment was.

Progress was slow, to start with Leia would turn her head when she heard noise, although over time she started to mimic the sounds.

After extensive therapy she can now speak full sentences, sing and hear people speaking down the phone.

She attends a mainstream school where she is one of the star pupils thanks to assistants using sign language and one-to-one education.

Her dad told the BBC: "She is picking up more and more and she's not far behind others of her age in most things."

He added: "'I love you Daddy' is probably the best thing I've heard her say."

Leia’s mum said: "When I'm putting her to bed she now says 'good night Mummy', which is something I never expected to hear."

Consultant otologist and clinical director of the Hearing Implant Centre at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, Prof Dan Jiang, said: "The outcomes are variable. Some will do better than others.

"They have to adapt to it and younger children do better so we like to insert the implant early if possible."

Chief executive of the National Deaf Children’s Society, Susan Daniels, said: "Every deaf child is different and for some, technology like auditory brainstem implants can be the right option and can make a huge difference to their lives.

"With the right support, deaf children can achieve just as well as their hearing peers and this investment is another important step towards a society where no deaf child is left behind."

The electrical stimulation which Leia had cannot promise to restore normal hearing.