Top News           Tuesday, April 3,2001

Hearing world opens for Canadian Boy


Ryan Duchoeny, 9, returned to Burlington on Monday so an audiologist could activate the hearing device that was implanted in his right ear a month ago. Ryan's family brought him to the United States for a cochlear implant surgery after the Quebec government ruled the boy wasn't eligible for the operation in Canada because he could communicate fluently in American Sign Language.

 

By: Nancy Remsen
Free Press Staff Writer

BURLINGTON, Vermont -- Ryan Duchoeny drew a cartoon figure of himself on a blackboard while a crush of Montreal reporters questioned his parents and the audiologist who had just introduced sound to the deaf boy's previously silent world.


The figure had a cochlear implant device attached to the side of its skull, just like the blue disc clinging to Ryan's crew-cut head. It also had a small harness strapping a tiny sound processor to its chest, just like the one Ryan wore over his Pokemon sweatshirt.


Next to the figure, Ryan drew a speech bubble and printed inside it the words "Can hear."


Indeed, he could. The 9-year-old from Chomedey, Quebec, had returned to Burlington on Monday so an audiologist could activate the hearing device implanted in his right ear a month ago.


"I have to say it went better than my wildest expectations," said Frank Duchoeny, Ryan's father. "Ryan responded beautifully. He didn't get scared by it, which was the most amazing thing."


Ryan's family brought him to the United States for a cochlear implant surgery after the Quebec government ruled the boy wasn't eligible for the operation in Canada because he could communicate fluently in American Sign Language.


His family wanted him to have the chance to hear. Friends have helped the family raise the $55,000 Canadian to pay for the operation and follow-up sessions.


The case caught the attention of the Quebec media, who flocked Monday to Burlington to record the moment Ryan began hearing with the controversial device. Frank Duchoeny has welcomed the media attention because the publicity helps as he continues his appeal of the government's ruling.


"The only way I can do battle," he said, "is to have the support of the public."


On Monday, however, Frank and Noreen Duchoeny focused only on the miracle of sound in their son's life.

Turned on

Michael LeMay, an audiologist at Fletcher Allen, spent about an hour stimulating the electrodes that had been implanted within Ryan's ear, establishing the range of sounds he could hear.


"This initial stimulation is how I wish they all went," LeMay said after his session with Ryan. He estimated that Ryan's hearing with the implant was borderline normal -- vastly improved from profoundly deaf.


LeMay explained that Ryan wouldn't hear the same sounds as people with normal hearing. "The sound 's' won't sound like the sound does to you and I," he said, "but it will always sound the same."


The challenge for Ryan will be to learn the meanings associated with the sounds he hears. LeMay said that in older children like Ryan, it could take several years to learn to hear.


"It is kind of like being dropped on alien planet," said Shari Nussbaum, an audiologist at the Ryan's school in Quebec, who traveled Monday to Vermont to consult with LeMay. She'll be coaching Ryan on speech and hearing five days a week.


Ryan will wear his sound processor all the time, except when he swims or sleeps. It can be clipped to his belt like a beeper or worn in a harness on his chest.


When he takes it off, LeMay said, "then he is a deaf child again." Ryan reacts



Ryan showed reporters he could hear sounds that LeMay made when his face was hidden behind a sheet of paper.


He patiently answered a few questions, too, with some assistance from an American Sign Language interpreter.

"How does your own voice sound?"


"Like an "eeee," Ryan said.


"What will happen when you go back to school?" a reporter asked.


"I am going to show my friends," Ryan signed in response.


"What will your friends say?"


"Good luck."


"What would you most like to hear?"


"The TV."


While reporters continued their questioning of the family and audiologists, Ryan slipped out to visit the bathroom. In minutes he was back, gesturing wildly for his parents to come with him.


"Right now he is just discovering sound," Frank Duchoeny explained. The boy had heard the toilet flush and the paper towel dispenser crank. Later he would discover that the lid on the step-on wastebasket banged when it shut.


Noreen Duchoeny watched her son test his new hearing. "I'm happy," she said.


Frank Duchoeny agreed. "Honestly, I knew it was going to work," he said. "The discovery is going to be the fun part."