Aug 2017 Independent online

For someone who has not even turned two yet, Egan Pillay of Durban has already had to overcome some formidable healthcare challenges in his short life. The 22-month-old has suffered a life-threatening heart condition, undergone two heart repair operations, overcome a bout of yellow jaundice, been diagnosed with profound deafness and has now had a cochlear device implanted which will assist him to hear for the first time. “Our family fondly calls Egan the ‘Little Fighter’ because of everything he has had to deal with,” says his proud father, Kreason Pillay. “No child should have to endure what Egan has during his young life, yet he has done so with the greatest courage, bouncing back cheerfully from every one of the considerable obstacles he has faced. Egan is a great gift and an inspiration to our family, and we are so grateful to have him in our lives.”

Egan Pillay

The ‘little fighter’, Egan Pillay, with Dr Viljee Jonker, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, Johannesburg

Egan recently became the first patient to receive a cochlear implantation at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital, as part of a new cochlear programme to assist in tackling the problem of deafness in the province. His is also the first such procedure to be performed at a Netcare hospital in KwaZulu-Natal. Dr Yougan Saman, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon who practises at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital and was part of the team that implanted Egan’s cochlear device, says that the procedure was completed successfully and the device will be turned on four to six weeks from now, once he has fully recovered from the surgery. “It is most advantageous to implant a cochlear device in children before the age of three, so that the child is able to develop their ‘hearing’ with the aid of the device while they are still at a critical stage of their development,” he explains.

 “Egan has a wonderful temperament and is an inspirational little boy and it was most gratifying for the team at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital to be involved in his treatment and to see him doing so well,” adds Dr Saman.

He says that Egan weighed just 8.5 kilogrammes at the time of the procedure, and is one of the smallest children to have received a cochlear implantation. His procedure was also unusual in that he was fitted with a Med-El cochlear device that is friendly for use with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning technology. “With his heart condition, Egan may have to undergo MRI in the future. We therefore had to implant a device compatible with such technology, as it would not be an option to remove the implant every time Egan required a scan.

 “Egan’s family have shown great determination in finding him the necessary assistance, which bodes well for his future development. This is because he will require follow up therapies and much dedication from his parents to assist him to develop his hearing and speech into the future,” says Dr Saman.

 “Egan was groggy following the implantation procedure,” relates his father. “His eyes were also swollen so that he couldn’t see, which he found very distressing, and I had to hold him throughout the night to keep him calm. I was grateful for the assistance of a wonderful nurse at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital that night.

 “By the morning the swelling had subsided, and he was ecstatic to see again and soon we were walking through the ward together. I remember he was particularly captivated by a fish mural that he spotted in the hospital and I knew he was rapidly recovering his strength. Our family is so very grateful to all of the doctors, healthcare professionals, nurses and everyone who has supported us as a family and who made it possible for him to be here with us today”

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