Yasmin Taj & Shweta Malla

Kathmandu:

“Silence is beautiful if short-lived, a curse if one has to live with it.” Is speech enough to express what one feels? Does a person actually need an ear to understand what the other person is trying to convey? Not always. How tough is life for those who suffer from audible range impairment. For normal people even a minute’s silence can be torturous but for those who lack the power of hearing, life is but a large abyss of complete silence. Many have spent their lives in vain and in search for technology to develop and pull these people out of their quiet darkness. Probably ten years ago, this was something impossible. It was beyond one’s imagination that such special children would ever be able to enjoy the music of life. But in the contemporary world, technology has long surpassed such disabilities. Cochlear implant is one such technology. A group of doctors from India and Nepal recently operated upon four little girls in order to give them the gift of hearing in a Teaching Hospital. One could never tell just by looking at these little angels and their expressive eyes that the world they live in is actually one of blank silence. Though a new concept in Nepal, these doctors have served as prophets of God to break away this silence that had been prevalent in their lives over the past many years.

What is cochlear implant?

The Nucleus 3 cochlear implant system is a safe, reliable and effective treatment for severe-to-profound hearing loss in adults and for profound hearing loss in children. Designed to let implant users experience sounds as they occur, this electronic device can enhance communication abilities with better hearing and speaking potential for implant recipients. The device consists of an internal implant and two choices of external speech processor: the body-worn SPrint or the revolutionary behind the ear ESPrit 3G.

Dr Rakesh Prasad Shrivastav, ENT, head and neck surgeon, Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital operated four girls with the help of Dr Sunil Kathuria from Batra Hospital, Delhi. Observing the procedure were a team of three doctors, Dr Hari Bhattarai, Dr Rajendra Guragain and Dr Chop Lal Bhusal who will be conducting such implants in future. Shrivastav informed that though the operation was successful, speech therapy would be the most vital factor to determine the overall development of the patients. “Parents can contribute a lot in the development of such patients as they would be highly responsible in training the basics of language to their children,” says Shrivastav. The operation was first conducted in December 2004 on three children who are doing fairly well now. A crucial point of the implant is the fact that the patient can be operated on an interval of two months if by chance the operation fails.

A whole new world

“I had never expected that such kind of advanced technology would come in Nepal so early, since I had just heard of it and was a totally new concept,” said Bed Nath Adhikari, father of Stuty Adhikari who hails from Tanahu. This four-year old girl is amongst the many who benefited from this implant surgery. Adhikari had lost all hopes and believed that his daughter would never be able to face the real world and survive the competitions and expectations. It was only after interacting with the doctors; Adhikari got encouraged to carry on with the operation. Though the operation was very expensive (approximately Rs 10 lakh), it did not deter Adhikari from selling his parental property to cure his only daughter. “I took loans from my relatives and their financial support encouraged me to opt for the operation. I’m highly hopeful and positive about my daughter’s future now,” said Adhikari.

Fighting all odds

“I used to hate it when people called by daughters with names like ‘lati’, it was like a curse and worse was the fact that I gave birth to two little girls with the same problem,” laments Meena Kafle. The Kafles, who hail from Surkhet, came to Kathmandu only for their daughters’ education. Kafle informed that she had heard of the operation quite some time back but due to financial constraints was not able to opt for it. With two daughters, Nutan (6) and Swastika (4) with the same problem, it was not an easy task for Kafles to arrange for all the expenses required then. “We had to sell our land and other assets to arrange for the two operations. Our other family members also supported us,” said Kafle. Adding, “It was pretty difficult to arrange for such a huge amount but, for the sake of love and our children’s future we had to make all sacrifices.”

Breaking the long silence

In the 15 years of her life, Rubina Sharma had no clue of what her name sounds like, nor had she ever heard the sweetness of her mother’s voice. Though, they travelled abroad many times and found no cure for this ailment, Rubina and her family never gave up hope. “In the initial phase, I used to feel that I was the only mother with a differently abled child but my perception changed when she started going to school,” says Rubina’s mother, Neeta Sharma. Her utmost priority now is not only about her speaking but she is happier about the fact that at the least Rubina will be able to respond and react.

Though the doctors constantly advised Sharma not to go ahead with the operation since Rubina was a little older than the required age, her whole family were totally prepared to take the risk. “As we had left no stones unturned, we believed that this could be that one miracle we had been waiting for all these years,” informs Sharma. Though it will take another five weeks to activate the implant Neeta Sharma is confident that once she starts with speech therapy, everything will be fine. She says, “The most overwhelming fact is that the operation has given her a new life and she’ll be able to enjoy her birthday in the proper manner for the first time.”

Sharma is not insecure and worried about Rubina’s future as she feels that now she can do everything and anything that any other child is capable of. Interpreting her dream, Sharma expressed, “A day before the operation, I dreamt of the sparkling rays of the sun falling over my hand and at that point I was assured that God has blessed my child and has granted her a bright future.” Years ago, Rubina’s late father, Rupak Raj Sharma had envisioned that his little daughter would one day come out of this dark silence and face the world with utmost confidence. And his dream has finally come true with the support and love of her entire family.