Sept 2017 Daily Mail
A nine-year-old cancer survivor who was left with severe hearing loss after chemotherapy medication is able to hear again. Liam Kelly, from Chicago, wriggled nervously as his cochlear implant was turned on, and broke into a huge smile moments later as he realised he could hear the world clearly for the first time in seven years. When his mom Maureen, 38, asked ‘How do I sound?, the perplexed boy, who hadn’t heard her voice properly since he was two, replied: ‘Fine’.
The brave boy was given just a 30 per cent chance of survival when he was struck down by neuroblastoma, a cancer of the nerve cells, in 2010. Doctors removed a tumour from his belly and he took platinum-based chemotherapy medication to help him battle the disease, which had spread through his body. Liam miraculously pulled through but the medication destroyed sensitive hair cells in his inner ears and left him with profound hearing loss. Six months later, the cancer returned but thankfully Liam beat it again – yet the exhausting battle meant his deafness was a low priority: He used a hearing aid to help him make out certain sounds and coupled with lip-reading, he could just about work out what people were saying. But it wasn’t until he had surgery to have a cochlear implant fitted that he was finally able to hear noises like wind rustling leaves in the trees and birds singing. Mom-of-three Maureen, a nurse, said: “It is heartbreaking to watch your child go through hearing loss when you can clearly the world but he can hear nothing.
She shared that Liam’s hearing was perfect before he was diagnosed with cancer, but he gradually lost it because of the medication. He eventually became unable to hear loud sounds like fire alarms, and although he could follow what people said to him if they spoke really loudly, Maureen said, his hearing was ‘similar to that on an 80-year-old with hearing loss.
Liam had a cochlear implant fitted in his left ear in a four-hour operation earlier this year, and three weeks later the doctors switched it on. “It was amazing but we were nervous,’ said his mom, who lives with her husband William, 41, and their two other children, Jack, five, and Erin, two. She continued: ‘I was thinking, “What if he doesn’t like it?” and I was worried he would hear sounds and get upset. ‘But he is such a cool character. He didn’t say much but I said, “Can you hear me?” and he said, “Yep.”
Dr Nancy Young, a cochlear implant physician at Lurie Children’s Hospital in Chicago where Liam was treated, said Liam’s hearing loss was very significant and hearing aids only provided limited benefit. ‘Using powerful hearing aids to make sounds audible, he could only understand about 25 per cent of words in a typical classroom situation. ‘There were many sounds he could not hear despite his hearing aids, for example soft high frequency sounds in spoken language such as ’s’ and the singing of birds.’ Liam can now fully enjoy his cancer-free life, and he and his family couldn’t be happier to finally be able to move on. ‘It has totally changed his life. It is super. I know it will open so many doors for him,’ said Liam’s mom.