M. Dinesh Varma

CHENNAI: Pavitra (11) suffers 70 per cent hearing impairment, which neither surgery nor a conventional hearing aid has helped redress.

In otherwise bright children like Pavitra, the hearing handicap severely impairs speech and language development.

The girl will soon get a sophisticated gadget that will fully restore the hearing faculty, help her pick up speech even in a noisy ambience, and were she keen on it, even “listen to her own footfalls.”

After several surgeries failed to restore the anatomy of the external ear (right), ENT surgeons at Sri Ramachandra University’s ENT unit decided on the Bone Anchored Hearing Aid (BAHA) procedure to restore the hearing faculty in the child.

On Wednesday, Pavitra underwent surgery to implant a screw-and-abutment assembly just beneath the right ear. The two-hour procedure, performed by a team led by Sunil Narayan Dutt, senior ENT consultant, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore, was put on a telemedicine network linking the Government Medical College, Srinagar and the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota. The fitment of the sophisticated BAHA digital sound processor will be done after three months.

The surgery done on Wednesday involved opening a skin flap beneath the right ear, drilling a cavity to a depth of 3 mm perpendicular to the skull bone and using specialised drillers that could drop speeds to 2,000 rpm.

An important step in the procedure is ‘soft tissue reduction’ to immobilise the skin, reduce chances of the inflammation and weed out hair follicles at the site of the fixture.

According to A. Ravi Kumar, ENT chief at ARU, BAHA is a relatively new implantation option for patients like Pavitra for whom success with surgery is severely limited and conventional hearing aids are ruled out. Only a handful of BAHA implants have been conducted in Chennai and Wednesday’s procedure marked a first for SRU. Only the prohibitive cost (around Rs.3 lakh for the implant unit alone) stands as a hurdle to the procedure gaining popularity in India, said Dr. Dutt.

Doctors pointed out that the quality of life issues governing children with hearing impairment are yet to catch the attention of charitable institutions in the way the challenges faced by patients with other congenital disorders have done.

In Pavitra’s case, a host of benefactors raised their hands to help — students of SRU’s ENT and the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences departments raised over Rs.1 lakh, TVS Electronics chipped in with Rs.1.25 lakh, a north Indian patient who came across the girl’s plight during his recent hospital stay here despatched Rs.51,000 and Astra Hearing Aids donated the implant device.