Oct 2020 Stuff.co.nz

Five-year-old Rhythm Goyal knows words in five languages and loves Bollywood music. He was also born profoundly deaf. The West Auckland toddler had cochlear implant surgery at 7 months old after failing the newborn hearing screening and another test a few months later. His parents Sunil and Rachna were nervously waiting for Rhythm to speak his first words when he was aged 2. Now, at times, they have to ask him to quieten down. They say cochlear implants have made an immeasurable difference to their lives, but they are not uniformly accessible.

Dad Sunil Goyal said when Rhythm didn't pass the newborn screening test they didn’t think much of it, as no-one on either side of the family had hearing loss. So when they learned their first child had no sense of hearing whatsoever when Rhythm was about 3 months old, “tears started falling from our eyes”, the Glen Eden man said. After hearing aids didn’t work, Rhythm was recommended cochlear implant surgery.

Rhythm GoyalRhythm Goyal with his father Sunil

It was a few weeks before the implants were turned on, but almost immediately Rhythm started picking up noises, his dad said. After years of silence, once Rhythm started talking “he never stopped”. Rhythm recently started at a mainstream school, knows the alphabet and can count higher than 100, his father said. He speaks English and is also learning words in Hindi, te reo Māori, Spanish and Mandarin. Goyal said he was “very thankful” for the support the family had received from Hearing House and Rhythm’s doctors over the years, and very proud of how Rhythm is doing. “He’s a brilliant kid.”

RhythmRhythm Goyal speaks English and is learning words in five other languages

Loud Shirt Day is the annual fundraising and awareness appeal of The Hearing House (THH) and the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme (SCIP) – which help children and adults with a cochlear implant learn to listen and speak. New Zealanders are encouraged to dress up in bright outfits and hold fundraising events at workplaces, homes and schools.

Cochlear implants are not covered by health insurance. Only about 20 per cent are eligible for funding, and the procedure costs about $50,000 privately. About 40 Kiwi adults receive government funding for a cochlear implant every year, and base funding hasn’t changed in six years despite waiting-list numbers compounding, SCIP said. In September, the Labour Party announced it would, if elected, increase cochlear implant funding for the number of adult implants to 140 a year.

Funds raised by Loud Shirt Day go towards programmes and services offered by SCIP and THH such as listening and spoken language therapy, audiology, and outreach programmes for regional and remote patients.

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