New world of sound for Zion

Zion and his parents together with Khanyisa Flente, who conducted the first hearing screening test, and Lida Muller, his audiologist at the Cochlear Implant Unit.

The family of Zion Goliath have reason for celebration this World Hearing Day.

World Hearing Day is celebrated on March 3 with a global message: “To hear for life, listen with care.”

Zion was born at Tygerberg Hospital on March 6, 2020 and developed severe neonatal jaundice after birth. This placed him at risk for possible hearing loss.

A hearing screening test was conducted when he was five days old. Zion did not pass the test and he was referred for further diagnostic testing at Tygerberg Hospital’s Audiology Clinic.

Although it is not yet mandated in South Africa, hearing screening is recommended for all newborn babies.

The test is quick and painless and can be performed soon after birth, before the mother and baby leave the hospital. Hearing screening allows those babies with a hearing loss to be identified early so that appropriate action can be taken.

When a hearing loss is detected early enough (before the age of 6 months), its negative effect on communication and other development can be prevented or minimised.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions, testing was delayed until September 2020 when Zion was diagnosed with a significant hearing loss in both ears.

At the age of five months, Zion was fitted with hearing aids and began attending therapy sessions at the Carel du Toit CHAT (Children Hear and Talk) Centre to encourage his listening and communication development.

His family and team of therapists soon realised that Zion would need a cochlear implant to allow him access to the world of sound and have the chance to develop spoken language.

He was referred to the Tygerberg Hospital Cochlear Implant Unit and his device was surgically implanted on December 22 last year. Zion was discharged from hospital the following day.

Last month, Zion and his family returned to the hospital for the activation of his cochlear implant. Zion continues to receive intensive therapy at the CHAT Centre, and he is learning to become aware of sounds and voices around him.

His mother, Crystal, says he is “a different child” and she is grateful that Zion was able to receive the help he needed at a young age.

She describes the family’s journey thus far as one of challenges, sacrifices, and teamwork. Her message to the public is to remove stigma, promote awareness and share information about hearing loss in people of all ages.

The newborn hearing screening programme at Tygerberg Hospital is supported by the Carel du Toit Trust. Over the past five years, more than 16 000 premature and other high-risk babies have had their hearing screened before leaving the hospital.

When a possible hearing loss is detected, further testing, support and intervention is available at the Audiology Clinic and the Carel du Toit CHAT Centre.

Zion’s cochlear implant was funded by Tygerberg Hospital. Funding is available annually to allow a limited number of adults and children from the public health sector to receive cochlear implants.