March 2017 The Weekend Sun

Jack Coombs is a different kid since The Weekend Sun last caught up with him February 2015.

Back then Jack, who has a genetic hearing trait, along with his family were on a journey to regain sound in his life after receiving two cochlear implants. Jack was learning to develop his language to that of a hearing child – a bumpy mission for all involved. But fast-forward to March 2017 – and Jack bounces up to the gate to Maungatapu School. The five-year-old, who has just started school, can both hear and talk proficiently. “He's doing really, really well,” says mother Kirstin Johnson-Coombs, whose older son Reid was born with a severe hearing loss and used hearing aids until he was 11 then received bilateral cochlear implants, while oldest sibling, daughter Mackenzie has no hearing woes.

Jack Coombs“Obviously Jack’s had many assessments along the way but now he's talking at a four-and-half-year-old level, which is fantastic,” says Kirstin. “So you can completely understand him – and in saying that, he is quite a chatterbox.” Kirstin says Jack's already picking up phrases from other kids at school, which is a good indicator his hearing is on track.

But things weren't always so bright. Reid's hearing prompted an audiologist to screen Jack at birth and he was diagnosed with a hearing loss. In 2013 Jack, aged about 18 months, received one cochlear implant – and responded immediately. And one year of rehabilitation via The Hearing House followed, with treatment slowly activating his brain's electrodes, allowing him to gradually hear. In 2014 Jack received a second implant at age two-and-a-half. “When he had his first cochlear implant he got to the stage where he would recognise his name. After his second implant, we'd take the first one off and he wouldn't recognise his name again.”  Jack received another year of rehabilitation for his new implant. “Without his cochlear implants, he's deaf.”

Kirstin says the implants are fantastic – enabling Jack to have life with sound. “The first three or four months with implants took him a while to learn more language but then it just flowed.”

And so Jack's behaviour has changed too – from a toddler who couldn't understand and be understood – to a five-year-old keen to join school. “Now he's a lot more independent – even in the last few weeks he's changed quite a bit – he's taken to school like a duck to water.”

Now everyone at school knows and loves Jack at Maungatapu Primary School – Kirstin puts down to the school's support and Jack's siblings passing through the gates before him. “He has a really cool personality – and with his journey, he's come a long way.”

So what now for Jack? The Hearing House still helps Jack with hearing mapping and equipment. But his case has been transferred to Kelston Deaf Education Centre in Auckland for rehabilitation and a resource teacher, who comes into Jack's school three times a week to help him. “He'll be doing normal schoolwork just like everyone else – he'll be learning how to read and write just like all of the others kids.” Kirstin says they've had so much support – from The Hearing House, Ministry of Education and Kelston Deaf Education Centre – and met so many amazing people.

“We've started a support group for parents with children with hearing difficulties,” says Kirstin, who is also a NZ Federation for Deaf Children Executive Committee member.