Auguste and his mother. 07/30/2014.

Auguste and his mother. 07/30/2014.

“Sophie is an amazing woman. She has kept her expectations realistic. At one point, she told me that if her son ends up being able to hear the fire alarm in a burning building, it will be worth it,” he said. “My goals are substantially higher in terms of benefit.” (Dr. Krieger – The Globe and Mail)

Sophie is the mother of a little boy, Auguste who has recently obtained a very experimental implant. Auguste is not the only child that has obtained an auditory brainstem implant (ABI), another little boy named Grayson was the first child in the United States to obtain an ABI.  There are many people that have reacted very negatively to the brain stem implant because it’s basically an “unknown”. Before going any further into reactions, one must understand the difference between the cochlear implant and the brain stem implant. The brain stem implant goes behind the ear and directly into the brain stem which leads to a higher risk than the cochlear implant installation.

Cochlear Implant. 07/31/2014.

Cochlear Implant. 07/31/2014.

The cochlear implant simulates the auditory nerve. The cochlear implant is now in over 300,000 people worldwide. The cochlear implant is not without risks including risks from the surgery. General anesthesia already has risks, injury to the facial nerve that goes through the middle ear, meningitis, brain fluid leakage (cerebrospinal), cochlea fluid leakage (perilymph), skin infection, and blood or fluid collection at the site of surgery just to list a few.

Because the cochlear implant has been around longer along with technical improvements in surgeries, the risks associated with the cochlear implant has reduced and seem to be more widely accepted; however the auditory brain stem implant (ABI) is just now entering clinical trials. It is to replace missing or damaged nerves (auditory) that transmit sound. There were only a handful of children selected to have the ABI in 2014 and Auguste was an ideal candidate.

ABI - Auditory Brainstem Implant

ABI – Auditory Brainstem Implant. 07/31/2014.

The brain stem implant risks are unknown because it has not been performed or studied in length yet. This is the same stage that the cochlear implant had gone through back in the 80’s and with today’s technology being so advanced, perhaps the brain stem implant will have a quicker acceptance rate than the cochlear implant did. Does that make what Augustine’s parents did right?

Sophie, Auguste’s mother, has stated she just wants him to be able to hear fire alarms in his house. It’s a rather ironic perspective after all that’s what one says when they implant their child with a cochlear implant. Auguste is not to be mixed up with Grayson Clamp, who had already had a cochlear implant surgery and it did not work for him so the ABI was plan B.

Surgery is the first step. After spending the first three years of his life deaf, Grayson now has to learn how to process auditory signals and communicate verbally instead of through signs and gestures. Teagle says therapy is a critical component. “We don’t know how long it will take for Grayson to transition from visual to auditory language,” she says. (UNC)

This has opened up new doors for controversy. In the end, it’s not what parents want that people need to focus on, it’s the question on whether cochlear implants are truly less controversial than brain stem implants. While cochlear implants and hearing aids have been up against each other for a couple decades now, will this new topic twist around and make cochlear implants the “good guys” and the ABI the “bad guys”?

Written by Mary Pat Withem
Follow her on Twitter @mpwithem