Implant lets boy enter new world of sound

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 November, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 November, 1994, 12:00am

SIX-YEAR-OLD Chan Hon-kuen watched intently as surgeons drilled through the bony wall of his left ear canal to insert the implant that has allowed him to hear for the first time in his life.

In August, Hon-kuen, who was born deaf, became the first child in Hong Kong - and the first would-be Cantonese speaker in the world - to receive a cochlear implant.

Yesterday, he saw the video of the operation at the Tung Wah Hospital. The implant has introduced him to the world of sound and has already begun to change his life dramatically.

His mother said: 'Having sound in his life has made him a much happier person. He makes many more noises than he did before the operation and I hope that one day he will be able to speak properly.' Hon-kuen has embarked on a long-term training and rehabilitation programme which will help him use the device as effectively as possible.

In less than three months of training, his voice has grown much stronger and he can now recognise somebody calling his name, respond to a doorbell and do his homework with less repeated instruction.

Before the operation, Hon-kuen could only speak in single words from a limited vocabulary, while he could hear very little, even with the help of a powerful hearing aid.

An audiologist at Hong Kong University, Dennis Au, said: 'The initial results are promising but research shows that it takes about two years before an implanted child shows any significant improvement in speech development.

'But the ability to hear sounds and interact with the hearing world can have a positive effect on a child's development and involvement in daily life.' The implant system uses a speech processor, which picks up sounds through an external microphone and translates them into electrically-coded signals that stimulate the nerves inside the inner ear and send messages directly to the brain.

Five profoundly deaf adults in the territory have already been fitted with the implant, while two more children have been assessed as suitable for the operation.

But doctors are not sure how many of Hong Kong's deaf people might benefit from the cochlear implant programme, which was set up by the Hong Kong Society for the Deaf in 1988.

Chairman of the society, Dr Buddy Wong Yat-kiu, said: 'The implant is not suitable for all deaf people, but we are assessing people at the moment and hope to see more operations carried out very soon.'