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Sept 2017 Stuff.co.nz

With one hand holding a Thomas the Tank Engine toy and the other hand grasping the side of the family home's sliding door, Otis Smith stepped outside, listening to the gentle sounds of spring, smiling.  Otis, from Buckland, near Pukekohe, loves his toys. He is happy, cheeky and carefree, as his mother Collette Smith describes. But at the age of 3, Otis has only been able to hear for less than a year.

Otis SmithOtis SmithHe was born with a hearing impairment after Collette contracted cytomegalovirus (CMV)  when she was pregnant, and despite the minor health concerns generally associated with CMV, it can have serious effects on the developing baby.  As a result, at birth Otis was diagnosed with moderate hearing loss in his right ear and  profoundly deaf in his left ear. He required a hearing aid and a $50,000 cochlear implant (CI), which was surgically implanted in November last year. 

"We didn't find out he had it (hearing loss) until he was born," Collette said. "They sent the placenta and bloods away to get tested and they were right, it turned out to be CMV.  "I think it happened quite early on when his ears would have been developing. I was absolutely gutted. I felt guilty more than anything else because he got it from me. It was a shock ... it was heart-breaking," she said.

Although both of Otis' ears had been impacted by the CMV, only his left ear required a CI. 

This posed an issue as the CI would only be "funded if Otis needed it in both ears," said Collette. "We just wanted to get his hearing right.” So the family set out to raise the $50,000, but they weren't going to be able to do it alone.  "The community got behind us massively to help fundraise for his CI. We couldn't have done it without them.” Collette ran bake sales and sold superhero masks and capes, while the Rotary Club of Franklin and Cafe Kaos in Pukekohe both hosted quiz nights.  The biggest fundraising event was a garage sale that was held at the Buckland Hall, which Collette was able to hire for free. With help from the community, there were items for sale that had been donated, fire engine rides, hot food and even a bouncy castle for the kids.  The money was raised in eight weeks, which meant Otis' could receive his CI sooner than originally planned. 

"He responded to sounds really well," said Collette.  Thanks to the Hearing House, a charity organisation for deaf children, Otis now attends free speech therapy sessions every Friday and audiology sessions every two months where they are doing "mapping" to make sure that he is getting the correct level of sound through his CI.  "It's really nice to see that there is some development. Although it is slow, it's not slow for him ... he is doing so well and we are so proud of him," Collette said. "We were just grateful [it was only his hearing that had been affected]. It's still such a massive thing that he is going to have to deal with in his life but it really could have been so much worse."

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