May 2021 New Zealand Herald

The word "duck" isn't very exciting to many people but for Whangārei mum Elle Grimes, her son's first word is a marvel – as he was born profoundly deaf. And this Mother's Day the 33-year-old and her husband Lee Grimes, 34, continue to revel in the sounds of their 16-month-old son Nathanial.

The couple's long-awaited "cheeky and incredible" baby boy, Nathanial, was diagnosed at 6 weeks old as severely to profoundly deaf in one ear and profoundly deaf in the other, his mother said.

"For him to come out with 10 fingers and 10 toes and then find out he can't hear, I just can't describe how devastating that was for us."

Nathanial was stickered as a "miracle man" by his adoring parents, as the couple – who overcame fertility concerns - endured multiple scares throughout the pregnancy.

lee grimesLee Grimes enjoys a cuddle with son Nathanial Grimes

The first time the couple were terrified they had lost Nathanial was at five weeks when severe pain scared Grimes into thinking she was experiencing an ectopic pregnancy - a pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus. "We hadn't, something else was going on but it worked out fine," she said.

Then four weeks later "a silly incident with a box" again had the couple terrified, thinking their son had been lost. "But he was our little miracle man and we weren't losing him."

The expectant parents' bumpy road finally smoothed and on December 20, 2019, they got to meet their sweet boy Nathanial. However, the serenity they felt at being a family of three was cracked only two days into Nathanial's life when the newborn failed a hearing test. "We were concerned but were told not to worry as it was common for babies to fail as they often had gunk in their ears from delivery," Grimes said.

The next four weeks were spent keeping worry at bay until the follow-up test. "He failed that one too.” Grimes struggled to stay positive as Nathanial continued to flunk audio tests – some involved measuring his brain activity and responses to sounds and varying frequencies. Eventually, the couple learned the root cause: their miracle baby was profoundly deaf. He wouldn't hear a plane going over or a motorbike right next to him, Grimes said. "We thought he was going to have the experiences we had as children but now we had no idea what life was going to look like."

The new parents steeled themselves, found solace in each other's strength and began to forge a way forward. They explored the option of hearing aids but were dismayed to realise they only slightly improved Nathanial's hearing. Grimes said with crucial months of his development passing by, it was decided their 6-month-old son would undergo a 3.5-hour cochlear implant surgery.

elle grimesElle Grimes with her son Nathanial Grimes following his cochlear implant surgery

Handing him over to the surgical team at Gillies Hospital in Auckland was tough for Grimes. But it was life-changing, she said, as she recounted the moment the specialist switched the implant on and slowly turned it up to see if Nathanial would respond. "He was playing with a toy and he just stopped, looked up and saw my mouth moving and wanted to touch it as he could hear noises coming from it."

And since that moment the youngster has keenly absorbed the noises around him. "He is obsessed with the sound of helicopters," Grimes said. "When he hears something he can't see he points to his cochlear – it's pretty cute."

The Grimes family were deeply grateful to the" amazing" Hearing House staff who supported them through speech therapy and the technical audiology side of things.

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