When her daughter Róisín started preschool, Margaret Morgan sat in her car, parked just outside of the school building. “I was waiting for someone to call and say, ‘She needs you. She needs you.’”
The call never came. Róisín, now 4, is a social butterfly who loves everything about preschool — from belting out her favorite songs to dancing with her friends.
It isn’t the outcome Margaret imagined when she learned of Róisín’s severe-to-profound hearing loss at age 1.We were terrified, but after months of seeking answers to no avail, we finally felt like we were in safe hands.
“From the time Róisín was very small I knew something wasn’t quite right. She was the best baby; so smiley and so happy, but she wouldn’t always turn toward me when I walked into a room or react in any way to my voice.”
Róisín failed hearing tests at 3 months and 6 months of age in Ireland. “We were told not to worry and were referred to this person and that person. I wasn’t getting a definitive answer, and even though I was encouraged to relax, I was so anxious. I felt my concerns weren’t being addressed, and that I wasn’t being taken seriously,” recalls Margaret.
After several months of frustration, Margaret and her husband Conor decided they needed another opinion.
A diagnosis and a plan
Shortly after Róisín’s first birthday, the couple brought their daughter to Boston Children’s Hospital. (Alhough they live in Ireland, the family still has a home and a large extended family in Boston.)
“We were terrified, but after months of seeking answers to no avail, we finally felt like we were in safe hands. Boston Children’s is the best place in the world if you are worried about your child,” says Margaret. They weighed the pros and cons of cochlear implants and decided to proceed with the surgery when Róisín was 18 months old.
One year later, Róisín had a second cochlear implant surgery in her other ear.
The Morgans realized the cochlear implants wouldn’t cure Róisín’s hearing loss.
“We knew Róisín wouldn’t suddenly be able to hear and to talk. We knew we had to put in a lot of time and effort post-surgery to make sure Róisín would be able to communicate. We spent a lot of time learning sign language and knew regular speech and language sessions were crucial to her progress. Cochlear implants require a lot of work post-surgery, but there is no doubt in our minds that the technology has afforded Róisín opportunities that might not have otherwise been possible,” explains Margaret.
Cochlear implants: Next steps
Róisín meets with a speech therapist regularly. In addition to boosting Róisín’s budding language skills, the visits provide the family with the tools they need to work with her at home. “We approach every day as an opportunity to hone her developing skills. It’s amazing when she makes connections or uses language I didn’t even realize she knew,” says Margaret.
Margaret and Conor’s commitment to their daughter has paid off, says Denise Eng, a speech-language pathologist in the Boston Children’s Department of Otolaryngology and Communication Enhancement. “Margaret is really good at figuring out Róisín’s priorities. For a while it was making her more understandable,” says Eng.
Margaret and Eng connected by phone in between visits, and when Róisín struggled with certain sounds, Eng’s interns sent the family books to support her growing language skills. After Róisín became more understandable, Margaret realized she needed to support her daughter’s social skills.
“Now, Róisín has grown comfortable in the school setting. She’s made a ton of friends and has even gotten into trouble for talking too much,” says Eng.
The next step is supporting Róisín’s use of language of thinking and problem solving. “It’s great that she can hear, and her speech sounds clear. It’s essential that her learning and thinking continue to grow,” says Eng.
Meanwhile, Conor is supporting Róisín in other ways — teaching his little girl Gaelic.
Today, Róisín is bursting with confidence and loves to sing and chat. On a recent long car trip, she entertained herself, playing with small dolls and imagining an entire fantasy world for them.
“For me to overhear that is incredible,” says Margaret. As mom and daughter soak up the small joys of preschool and princesses, Margaret and Conor are looking ahead to a bright future for Róisín.
On her last visit to Boston Children’s, Róisín was able to personally thank Dr. Licameli for her “cool” implants. “We have learned not to fear for Róisín because of her condition. We’ve always had high expectations for her, and she’s exceeded every one of them. She brings us so much joy. She is a real character and she amazes us every single day. We know that she is capable of absolutely anything. And we are so grateful,” says Margaret.
Learn more about the Boston Children’s Cochlear Implant Program.