Local deaf girl with cochlear implants wants to help those like her

By Josh Hall (Twitter: @Vancan19)
December 4, 2017 - 11:59pm Updated: December 6, 2017 - 1:14pm

A local girl is a shining example of why early intervention for children with hearing problems is so important.

Abigail McQuay, 14, leads a regular daily routine and attends school at St. Francis of Assisi in Red Deer.

Her parents say at the age of one, Abby wasn’t speaking. It wasn’t much later that a babysitter suggested she may have auditory issues. At 18 months, Abby was sent to Children’s Hospital in Calgary and by age three, she had her first cochlear implant. Her other ear was done at age six.

“We had a lot of misdiagnoses in the beginning and Red Deer’s hospital didn’t test for hearing loss in newborns,” says Carla McQuay, Abby’s mother. “We didn’t know Abby was born deaf.”

Carla admits she thought the procedure to implant the equipment into her daughter’s cochlea seemed drastic, but after meeting other families of deaf children, she was sold.

It’s fortunate that she was convinced early on because as Bernadette Falconar, a pediatric audiologist in Calgary points out, if a child with hearing issues isn't seen early enough, there is unfortunately a point of no return.

“If a child turns up here at eight and has never heard before, even if given cochlear implants, they would never understand speech,” she says. “It’s all based on an early timeframe to get sound into the ear and up to the brain.”

Falconar points out Alberta is somewhat late to the party in terms of early childhood hearing detection and intervention. A new Early Hearing Detection and Intervention program is now available at select sites across the province and will be fully rolled out come next October.

Meanwhile, Abby, a former member of her school’s running club and current dancer and gymnast outside of school, says she already has aspirations for post-secondary.

“I want to be an audiologist when I'm an older,” she says. “I was inspired by some of my audiologists a couple years ago. It's really cool to see the technology improve. I want to be able to help other people be able to hear, speak and write.”

Cochlear implant technology first came to the forefront about 30 years ago. These days, the tech is advancing with the new Nucleus 7 sound processor and its mobile app which allows patients to stream sound from their iPhone straight to the cochlear implant.

Abby still enjoys her quiet time. The sound processors (the external component of the cochlear implant system) easily come right off, which she uses to her advantage when studying or when a scary movie gets too real, according to her mom.

“I am very glad for the decision my parents made with the cochlear implants,” says Abby. ‘It’s definitely helped me a lot in life.”

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