Six-year-old Elyse Wright has a sweet smile and cascading brown curls. Most people would never realize the headband she wears anchors a device that helps her overcome hearing loss.
Elyse was born with a malformed left ear. As a result, she has conductive hearing loss that happens when sounds cannot get through the middle and outer ear. “Elyse didn’t pass her newborn hearing screening, and then her family was referred to Akron Children’s for more testing and diagnosis,” said Dr. Tiffany Vasiloff, lead audiologist in the Akron Children’s Ear, Nose and Throat Center. “We fit Elyse with a bone-conduction hearing aid when she was just 3 months old.”
Elyse wears the hearing aid attached to a variety of headbands that match her clothes. The device sits snugly behind her left ear and creates vibrations that move through her skull to the inner ear. The hearing organ inside the ear, called the cochlea, senses the vibrations as sound.
“Research shows that kids with hearing loss on one side will struggle in school, even though they can hear out of their other ear,” Dr. Vasiloff explained. “It’s important that Elyse’s hearing aid keeps the nerves stimulated on the left side. Dual hearing results in better outcomes.”
Elyse is gearing up for surgery in July to implant a bone-anchored hearing aid. “Kids can’t have this surgery until they are 6 because their skulls are still hardening,” Dr. Vasiloff said. “A month after surgery, she’ll get the external hearing aid placed on the anchor that was surgically implanted near the back of her ear. Accessories for the hearing aid include a variety of ‘skins’ like you have for a laptop or cellphone, so she’ll have bright colors to customize her hearing aid.”
Although her parents are nervous about the surgery, Elyse is excited. She is completing kindergarten in a few weeks and looks forward to taking ballet lessons this summer. She loves to ice skate, and she’s lobbying her parents for chicks to raise in their backyard. “Elyse has such a joyful personality; I call her my sunshine,” her mom, Erin, said. “She is kind, rarely serious and best friends with her 8-year-old sister, Lana. She doesn’t let hearing loss stand in her way.”
Dr. Vasiloff enjoys being on the journey with patient families, which can sometimes last for years. “I’ve been caring for Elyse since she was a baby. She’s a very smart girl, and it’s been so fun to watch her grow up,” she shared. “We work with great families who really advocate for their kids. We all want what is best for the kids, in school and in life.”