FEEL GOOD | Good Samaritans bring the world of sound to brave 18-month-old Port Elizabeth boy

Grayson Marais with his parents and doctors who did his surgery
Grayson Marais with his parents and doctors who did his surgery

Brave 18-month-old Grayson Marais from Port Elizabeth experienced the world of sound for the very first time this week, thanks to the goodwill of a team of specialists, Netcare Greenacres Hospital, the Netcare Foundation and the Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital. 

This elite team joined hands to ensure that the pro-bono cochlear implant procedure, undertaken by ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist Dr Iain Butler with the assistance of anaesthetist Dr Chris Ngaka, was a success. 

"Grayson’s implantation procedure was completed successfully, and he was doing well when we removed his bandages and stitches at our first follow up consultation recently," Dr Butler said, adding "My colleagues and I were thrilled to have been able to assist this delightful little boy, who always has a big smile on his face."

His cochlear device was turned on for the first time at Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital on 19 November, and doctors are hopeful that with the necessary speech and listening therapies, he will go on to hear and to be able to speak normally.

So grateful

Grayson’s mother, Antoinette Marais, is grateful that the team and the hospital conducted all procedures free of charge. "We are so grateful that my son was able to receive the great gift of this cochlear implantation, and we would like to convey our deepest appreciation to Dr Butler and his team for doing the procedure free of charge," she said.

"My family and I are also thankful to audiologist, Babalwa Potelwa at Port Elizabeth Provincial Hospital who first detected Grayson’s hearing problem and who has been exceptionally supportive throughout," she said.

Also read: Tantrums vs Meltdowns: When should you be concerned?

According to Dr Butler, Grayson was born with a profound hearing impairment, and ordinary hearing aids would not have been a solution for his condition.

As early as possible

"The early implantation of a cochlear device is important for children such as Grayson," he explained, "as it enables them to become familiar with sound as early as possible and to develop their speech and communication skills from an early age." 

This also shows the importance of the early detection of hearing problems in new-borns, he said, adding that it is important to note that the implantation of the cochlear device in a child born as profoundly deaf as Grayson is only the first step.

As intensive follow-up speech and listening therapies in the years to come are also critically important in their journey to hearing and speaking.

Read here: Cake or broccoli? How to get your toddler to choose broccoli every time

Where this can be facilitated, the device enables the child’s development to follow a normal development trajectory and is positively life-changing. Dr Butler explained that the external ‘microphone’ part of the cochlear device picks up signals from the environment.

One in 1 000 children

Which the implant then sends directly to the auditory nerve in the ear and to the brain, which comes to recognise the signal as sound. In this way the complex cochlear implant technology is able to bypass the damaged areas of the ear. 

"A child such as Grayson, who has not heard sound in his life before, can become overwhelmed when the device is first turned on. For this reason, we start off using a very low ‘volume’. Then," he said, "as the child becomes more familiar with hearing these new sounds from the environment, the ‘volume’ is turned up gradually over a number of weeks." 

Approximately three to six in 1 000 children are born with some form of hearing impairment, which is the most common of the sensory deficits occurring in newborns.

Only around one in 1 000 children are born with profound hearing impairment, such as was the case with Grayson.

Dr Butler says cochlear implantation can provide a real solution for children born with profound deafness, but the device and supporting therapies are costly. 


Grayson Marais with Mom and Dr Iain Butler  (Supplied)

"As private practitioners, we look to link up with the state health sector and non-governmental organisations at least a couple of times every year to assist in addressing the huge need among underprivileged children who are born deaf for appropriate medical intervention," Dr Butler said, adding that he and Dr Retief had performed a cochlear procedure on Grayson’s brother a year ago, and he has responded well to the treatment. 

Energetic and courageous little boy

"It is great for us to be able to team up with Netcare Greenacres Hospital and the Netcare Foundation on such initiatives that make a meaningful and long-term difference in the lives of children," he added.

Andre Bothma, general manager of Netcare Greenacres Hospital, says the staff at the facility felt privileged to have been of assistance to the energetic and courageous little boy and his family. 

"Our aim at Netcare Greenacres Hospital is to provide each of our patients and their families with medical treatment and personal care that are appropriate and beneficial for their particular condition and personal circumstances. We trust that his procedure will be of great benefit to little Grayson," Bothma said.

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Compiled for Parent24 by Graeme Swinney (Netcare).

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