Celebrating the Cochlear Implant in Pittsburgh

By Johnston, Deborrah | Volta Voices, March/April 2011 | Go to article overview

Celebrating the Cochlear Implant in Pittsburgh


Johnston, Deborrah, Volta Voices


What happens when you combine the passion, dedication and gratitude of a mother of a child who is deaf with the genius, perseverance and humility of an engineer who co-invented the multi-channel cochlear implant? The result is a memorable week of events this past October in Pittsburgh, Pa. The parent (and DePaul School trustee) is Pam Billet, and the engineer is Professor Jim Patrick, chief scientist at Cochlear Limited in Sydney, Australia, who worked with Dr. Graeme Clark to develop the world's first multi-channel cochlear implant and was Cochlear's very first employee.

"Hearing Wonders - Speaking Miracles Week" originated with Billet, who envisioned a series of events for the medical, scientific and educational communities in and around Pittsburgh that would create awareness about childhood deafness, cochlear implants and the DePaul School for Hearing and Speech. The goal was to address specific areas of interest for each authence and highlight DePaul's expertise in listening and spoken language education for children who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Billet's idea originated after first meeting Patrick and Clark at the 2007 Cochlear Americas Celebration in San Antonio, Texas. She was deeply moved by her meeting with the engineer and physician whose visionary work has profoundly affected her daughter's future. Billet's daughter, Taylor, contracted bacterial meningitis at age 14 months that resulted in a bilateral hearing loss. In 2006, Taylor was the first child at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC to receive simultaneous bilateral cochlear implants. Shortly thereafter, the Billets enrolled Taylor in the center-based toddler program at DePaul School. Following nearly four years of intensive auditory training and education in the toddler and preschool programs, Taylor enrolled in a mainstream kindergarten in the fall of 2010. Billet's hope was to provide other DePaul School parents with the same opportunity to meet Patrick and to encourage information sharing across various disciplines that are directly or indirectly linked to cochlear implants.

Upon confirming Patrick's willingness to come to Pittsburgh, the ideas and efforts of a planning team, under the direction of Billet; Carol Riley, president of DePaul School's board of trustees; and a core group of DePaul staff members, were set in motion. The team's goals were multi-faceted and aggressive, and the response from the various constituencies was overwhelming. "Hearing Wonders - Speaking Miracles Week" resulted in a deeper understanding of childhood deafness, early diagnosis and intervention, and appropriate follow-up, and allowed DePaul School to develop new partnerships with local corporate, foundation, medical and community leaders that will ultimately help shape the school's future.

DePaul School's goal is to prepare their students to enter mainstream educational settings. This past fall, along with Taylor, DePaul School assisted 13 other students' transition to their home school districts, the largest mainstreaming class in the school's 102-year history. Reasons for this success include the school's onsite audiological services, including cochlear implant mapping and loaner devices, intensive auditoryoral instruction and speech therapy; family education and support; and mainstreaming services as well as close relationships with the area's cochlear implant centers and surgeons. "Hearing Wonders - Speaking Miracles Week" began with Patrick's visit to DePaul School that featured a tour, lunch and lively question and answer session with students and faculty. The next day, "Unlocking the World of Sound & Speech," a family-themed event focusing on recipients of cochlear implants and their families, was a highlight of the week's activities. Hosted by Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, the evening featured presentations by Dr. David Chi, director of the Hearing Center at Children's Hospital and Taylor's cochlear implant surgeon, and Patrick, who reviewed the history and unique challenges his research team faced when developing the cochlear implant. …

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