May 2019

A Penticton mother has spent over $28,000 in travel and medical costs to help her baby hear, because his single-ear cochlear implant surgery isn't covered by government healthcare. Cori McCormick's son Ashton was only a few days old when she learned he might have some trouble with his hearing in his left ear. It was thought to just be fluid in the ear that would go away on its own, but as the weeks passed, it became apparent something was wrong. 

"It's a severe to profound hearing loss in his left ear," McCormick said. "And I said, okay, what does that mean, what does that look like, and [the doctor] said well, there's really nothing we can do, he's completely deaf in one ear.” Ashton has full hearing in his right ear, but the lack of hearing in the other side could have severe implications for his development. "The problem is in noisy situations, he can't pull out one voice or one noise from the background noise. And it is like spending your whole day listening to 10 people talk to you all at once," McCormick explained. "It's very hard for these kids, and it's exhausting for them. Research has shown they have trouble in school, they have trouble with friends. They're just tired, it's a lot of work."

She started looking for options for single-ear cochlear implants, and was dismayed to find that in Canada, the process was only in the clinical trial stage, and it was half a country away in Toronto. Cochlear implants for both-side deafness have become common, but not so for single-side deafness. "Yes, there's this clinical trial, yes, Ashton qualifies, he meets all the criteria, but there's a cost to it," McCormick said. 

Ashton McCormickThe cochlear implant alone costs $16,000, and it was out of pocket, since the implant is in a trial phase. Ashton was just the third B.C. child to undergo the implantation and surgery, which, by the time the whole procedure and follow up appointments are done, will require 15 to 18 trips to Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Ashton still has around eight more trips to go.  On top of that, McCormick had to worry about childcare for her four older kids. But it was all worth it for the progress Ashton has made with his implant so far. 

"He's starting to turn to sounds and localise where the sounds are coming from, which is amazing for us," she said. "He'll respond to his name, and he'll come when you call him.” At 20 months old now, Ashton is thriving.  "It's great, it's going to help him with everything as he grows up, from being able to tell what direction a car is coming from to being able to hear his teachers in his classroom," McCormick said. 

In the meantime, though, her costs are mounting, and the Penticton Elks have stepped in to try to help out. McCormick hopes her story will help spread the word about this cochlear implant trial to other parents who may have a child with single-side deafness, since she says it is "still widely unknown in B.C."

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