May 2020 OttowaMatters.com
When COVID-19 hit and Ontario hospitals had to shut down, CHEO had to get creative and find new ways to continue to help their patients like three-year-old Brooklyn, who is profoundly deaf.
Brooklyn McCarroll, 3, with mom Jeanick Morin-Cleroux and CHEO speech language pathologist Gabrielle Gabrielle Charron
When Brooklyn McCarroll was born, she got a test that every newborn gets — the newborn hearing screening test — but failed it. Doctors told her mom, Jeanick Morin-Cleroux, not worry and to come back when Brooklyn was two months and they’d try again. So they did, but Brooklyn failed again. That’s when they found out Brooklyn had profound hearing loss — a diagnosis her parents couldn’t understand because neither of them were aware of anything genetic in their family to cause this. “It was a very difficult thing to hear,” Jeanick said. “There was no history of hearing loss in our family so it was very new to us…It was an absolute shock. Speaking for myself, it was definitely a grieving. I could see myself going through the different stage of grief..” But as it turned out, Jeanick and her husband both carried a mutated gene that caused hearing loss, and neither of them knew it.
So the next month, Brooklyn was fitted with a cochlear implant and began her journey to hearing with CHEO. She was referred to CHEO’s ENT and speech language pathology team, and was all set up to have one-hour weekly sessions with a speech language pathologist with Gabrielle Charron. But her sessions were interrupted when COVID-19 hit and CHEO shut down and was forced to cancel appointments, procedures and surgeries as a result of the provincial government’s restrictions. Jeanick, nor the team at CHEO, knew what that meant for patients like Brooklyn — a happy, curious and affectionate three-year-old. Would their care be interrupted? Would this slow their progress? So they did what they had to do: adapt.
That’s when CHEO moved their session online using the teleconferencing program Zoom. These tele therapy sessions were not something the hospital had tried before, so all they could do was try and do the best they could. “We were definitely thrown into this situation nobody could have predicted but we work as a team. Some days at CHEO, in ambulatory care, it was an all hands on deck kind of scenario.”
With in-person sessions, speech language pathologists would play hearing games and have hearing activities for their little patients. But with these new sessions, even though they carry the same idea, it does require more participation from parents. These new sessions meant Jeanick had to become more involved, too, and help Gabrielle out with the activities. No one knew how successful the switch to online sessions would be. “It is a challenge some days,” Gabrielle admitted. “Changing therapy materials over, changing and adapting quickly to a new way of doing these things and to use the materials differently, things like that,” Gabrielle explained.
Both Gabrielle and Jeanick feared that Brooklyn — a toddler — would be easily distracted and would not participate or engage in the new sessions. Despite those fears, Brooklyn ended up fully participating and both women have seen continued progress with Brooklyn— making the sessions a success. “Every time I see a child every session — and it isn’t always easy — meet a goal, it’s extremely rewarding,” Gabrielle said. “As a clinician, that’s what drives you.”
Gabrielle is not sure how long the teletherapy sessions will go on for at CHEO, but with the success they’re seeing with Brooklyn and other patients and the positive feedback from parents, Gabrielle thinks it could be in CHEO’s foreseeable future. “Because we’re making it work, I think for the next little while — since everything is going well — I can see teletherapy continuing.”