Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Yemeni girl hears for the first time after treatment in UAE

The two-year-old was born deaf but was brought to Abu Dhabi to be fitted with a cochlear implant

Seta’s eyes widened as her mother softly said her name. It was the first time she heard it.

The two-year-old girl from Yemen was born deaf and, until Thursday, her world had been silent.

Cradled in her mother’s arms and hearing the noisy world for the first time, she burst into tears, overwhelmed, so her doctors decided to take it slow.

Seta was a little over a year old when her parents realised something was wrong.

“She would not respond to me or her siblings and she did not speak,” her mother, Hafila Al Aboudi, 34, told The National.

The family lived in Al Mahrah Governate of Yemen, on the border with Oman, where there were no specialists nor rehabilitation centres to take their daughter.

“My brother is a doctor and he realised that there was something wrong with her hearing,” said Yasser Al Aboudi, Seta’s uncle who lives in Abu Dhabi.

The family found out about a UAE initiative to treat residents with hearing problems for free. Although targeted at the Northern Emirates, they reached out to the UAE government who responded with an offer to help.

Seta and her family were brought to the UAE in March. She was put through a range of tests at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi and initially fitted with a regular hearing aid.

It was later decided that a cochlear implant was needed in both ears, after her hearing failed to improve. This procedure in the right ear was carried out on July 29, with the implant for the left ear to follow.

The small, electronic device bypasses the normal acoustic hearing process and replaces it with electric signals that directly stimulate the auditory nerve. With training, the brain learns to translate those signals as sound.

A single device costs more than Dh100,000 but the costs of treatment and the family’s stay in the UAE was covered by Abu Dhabi’s government.

“This is life changing,” said consultant ENT surgeon at SKMC, Shaik Irfan Basha.

“In no time young Seta will be responding to sounds and communicating, which has been a dream of her parents.”

On Thursday, after doctors installed the cochlear implant, the device was activated for the first time.

Doctors programmed a computer to transmit short beeping sounds while Seta acclimated to hearing.

A few minutes later, her mother was asked to speak and her first word to her daughter was to say her name.

“What I am feeling now is indescribable,” the mother of three said as she cried.

“I want her to recognise my voice, to know her name and then to know the name of her siblings. We are so grateful to the UAE government and SKMC for this opportunity. They gave us and my daughter the gift of hearing,” she said.

“Seta and her family had suffered,” her uncle said. “Even raising her was difficult.”

Seta’s father, Ahmed Ali, said the family struggled to cater to her needs without the ability to communicate.

“A person who can hear and speak is very different from one who cannot,” said Mr Ali, 34.

“For example, the other day she was crying and I couldn’t ask her why because I knew she wouldn’t respond. It was only after I saw the bruise in her arm did I know that she had fallen,” he said.

“We really cannot begin to describe how happy we are feeling at this moment and how grateful we are.”

Seta had one of the implants installed in her right ear and the next will be installed in the following weeks. She will also require extensive rehabilitation so she can become acquainted to sounds.

Updated: August 25, 2019 07:49 AM

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