Byline: Nick Bramhill
IT will be a moment of pure joy for the whole family - one they had never imagined would be possible.
For when Alicja Nowicki's parents sing Happy Birthday to her today, it will be the first time the three-year-old hears the song.
Alicja, who celebrates the big day at home in Cork, was born with a rare and life-threatening illness.
She suffers from Charge Syndrome, which left her deaf, almost blind, unable to swallow, with persistent breathing and heart problems, and a deformed leg.
In February, Alicja became the first Irish-born child to be fitted with a 'bionic ear' in a complex surgical operation in Italy.
The successful [euro]60,000 treatment at Verona University Hospital enabled her to 'sense' sounds for the first time when her auditory brainstem implant was switched on.
Now her parents, Radek and Ania, say they are determined to throw her a memorable party at their Ballintemple home.
As a special treat, Mrs Nowicki has even organised for her own mother to fly over from her native Poland to celebrate her granddaughter's birthday.
And she said she hopes to see her only daughter, who is currently fed through a tube, being able to enjoy a slice of birthday cake one day.
'She wants to eat, but she still has problems swallowing. My dream is that by the time of her fourth birthday next year, she'll be able to eat some of her own birthday cake.'
Alicja will undergo tests in the coming weeks at Cork University Hospital to determine what else can be done to improve her situation. Her mother, who expressed relief that her child has responded so well to the implant, explained: 'Everything she hears is as new for her as it would be a newborn baby.
'She's probably at the stage of a one-month-old and doesn't distinguish different voices yet or know the directions they're coming from. …