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Today's Family Magazine

Music to their ears

Nov 21, 2016 12:24PM ● By Today's Family

Kelley Herman and her son Timmy Jr.

By Deanna Adams

Kelley Herman wasn’t born deaf, but she has lived most of her life not hearing the sounds most of us take for granted.

“I became deaf when I was one year old and got a double ear infection,” she says.  “So I had a lot of difficulties growing up.”

Those difficulties included years of bullying because of her speech impediment.  When she and her husband, Tim, who’s deaf from birth, welcomed their child, Timmy Jr., they knew they didn’t want him going through what they had. Their son was diagnosed soon after birth with a genetic severe hearing loss.

“We want him to experience life with all the sounds, and to be able to communicate well with others so he does well in school,” says Kelley, 28, who lives in Mentor with her husband.

Timmy’s first operation took place at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital last June, and it was activated the following month.  “He wasn’t even frightened,” his mother says.  Although he’s learning to use sign language, he can now hear music and responds to noises.  Timmy has recently received his second cochlear implant, meaning he is a bilateral recipient and able to hear out of both ears.

According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), three out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears, with approximately 90% born to hearing parents.  It can, of course, be due to genetic causes (as in Timmy Jr.’s case), but there are also environmental risk factors associated with hearing loss, such as prematurity, severe ear infections, or diseases.  Early identification of hearing loss allows for successful intervention, clearing the way for improved speech, language and cognitive development appropriate for a child’s age.  

The Hermans tried traditional hearing aids for their little son, now 18 months, but soon realized that a cochlear implant might be more beneficial to him.  Since 2012, approximately 324,200 cochlear implants have been inserted worldwide, both in children and adults.  In most cases, they have been known to be successful in restoring hearing in people with severe hearing loss due to damage of the inner ear, and aid those who do not benefit well from hearing aids.

“A cochlear implant doesn’t amplify sounds like a hearing aid, but rather stimulates the nerve directly from electrical impulses,” explains Kelsey Krueger, Au.D., CCC-A at the University Hospitals Chagrin Highlands Health Center.  “For some, traditional hearing aids are not enough to give understanding of speech.  They can hear sounds, but it’s not clear.”

She adds that they always conduct a series of tests to see if the patient is a good candidate for cochlear implants.  One caveat, however, is the cost, which can be as high as $100,000.  “We work with insurance companies and explain all the ways it will benefit the patient,” Krueger says.  Among the benefits include helping deaf people feel less isolated, and allowing them to gain confidence and independence.  Over time, she adds, they become more involved in conversations and social groups, thus improving the overall quality of life.

Besides health insurance, there are also some resources available, such as the Lion’s Club and the Gift of Hearing Foundation.

When the Hermans noticed a difference right away in their son’s hearing responses, that helped Kelley, who previously relied on hearing aids, to make another big decision.

“At first, I didn’t want to get cochlear implants for myself, but after seeing Timmy’s reaction, I changed my mind because I want to hear my son and interact better with him,” says Kelley, who adds that her husband received his own implant a few years ago.

She says the biggest difference is being able to get acquainted with different sounds, and recognize where they’re coming from.  “It’s all much clearer and more powerful than with the hearing aids.”

She laughs recalling when she recently was mystified at an unusual sound, and later learned it was from a dripping faucet in the bathroom.  She also gets a kick out of seeing her son recognize new sounds, too.

“We went to the beach a lot this summer and he used to be afraid of the water, but now he loves the sound of the waves and enjoys hearing himself splash around in it. It’s all so amazing!”

Kelley Herman encourages those interested to follow her and her son’s journey on Facebook,

To learn more about hearing loss, with children please visit