Born without earholes: Parents wait 10 years, struggle for daughter's surgery

Akshita had to wait for 10 years to gain their hearing ability. (R) Akshita with parents and brother. Photo: Special arrangement

Several surgeries take place at Thrissur Jubilee Mission Hospital everyday. But, the one that took place on May 4th was way too different. It was the first of its kind surgical operation in Kerala, that may benefit many more patients in the future. The surgery can also be described as a victorious battle fought by a couple for their 10-year-old daughter. It was dream-come-true for them as they had waited for 10 years for their daughter, who was born without earholes and therefore was totally deaf. Though the Trissur-based Rajeev and Sangeeta, had to overcome several hurdles to eventually get the surgery done.

The story of Akshita

Akshita was born to military officer Rajeev and Sangeeta, at a military hospital in Jodhpur. The daughter was born without an ear hole. Undeterred, they consulted several doctors and the majority said they had to wait for 10 more years for anything to be done. So they patiently waited till Akshita who is currently a student of Thrissur Poranattukara Kendriya Vidyalaya turned 10.

They chose Vellore CMC for their daughter's treatment. Meanwhile, Rajeev retired from the military. When she turned 10, they took her to a hospital. But when they took a scan prior to the surgery, they were told that the surgery was not possible for Akshita. Since there was an issue with the inner facial nerve, the face might turn to one side during the surgery. And only 10 percent of hearing ability will be restored. When the doctors told them they can do the surgery with that risk, the parents gave up the attempt.

But they kept searching for other options to get back their daughter’s hearing ability. That's how they came to know of a new surgery called BAHA (Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid). But the cost was a bit higher. They also found out that the surgery was possible through ECHS since Rajiv was in the military. A hospital in Kochi had the facility to perform surgery through ECHS. When Sangeetha reached the ECHS counter with all the necessary papers readied by the doctor, they thew the paper on her face—“Why did you come here with this? This cannot be done here. Who told you to bring it here?” they asked her angrily. She handed the papers back to the doctor.

Not only were the officials cruel but they also offered them no reason. When you retire from work, a certain amount is taken to the ECHS scheme. Apart from that, you are charged Rs. 1000 per month. “They force us to do this. But then no one says you won’t get money for certain things,” says Sangeeta.

Combo image of Dr. Ramesh Kumar (L) and the team of doctors who conducted the surgery. Photo: Special arrangement

It was when they were thinking of another option that they thought of going through Sangeeta’s ESI. She was an Aadhaar supervisor at the Federal Bank.

Upon inquiry, they found that ESI’s ENT is in Thrissur Jubilee Mission Hospital. After consulting ENT Dr. Ramesh Kumar, they decided to go ahead with the surgery. The surgical machine alone will cost Rs 7,87,000. With the help of ESI Joint Director Dr. CHS Mani, they got all the papers cleared and were allotted Rs 5,35,000.

After the three-hour surgery that was held two days ago, Akshita has recovered and will be discharged from the hospital today. The machine set inside will be activated after the wound is completely healed. The doctor told them to give it one month’s time. Meanwhile, the parents are ecstatic at the thought of Akshita being able to hear after a month.

What is BAHA?

BAHA stands for Bone-Anchored Hearing Aid surgery. This is done for those who are born without an ear canal. When normal hearing aids fail to function, such a surgery is needed. The implant used for this is very expensive. Dr. Ramesh Kumar, who performed the surgery, said that the latest implant on Akshita was the Osia OSI200 of Cochlear Company. The surgery will also be supervised by a representative from this company. Its specialty is that it is the latest model and costs over Rs 7 lakhs. BAHA surgery with older models were done in a few hospitals in Kerala but this new model is being implanted for the first time in Akshita.

In older models, a screw-like part of the BAHA protrudes from the body. The hearing aid is used attached to its top. In the new model, its hearing mechanism and electrodes are new. Moreover, since the entire implant is under the skin of the skull, nothing is visible outside.

It is only a month after the Cochlear company’s software is installed that the machine is switched on. It takes about a month for the implant to fuse with the bone. This is called osseointegration.

Things to watch out for

You just need to take care of a few things you would normally look out for in a typical ear surgery. You should make sure to prevent infection and other problems with the wound. It is enough to take only the medicines taken during normal surgery to prevent infection or if there is pain or swelling.

If the implant does not osseointegrate with the bone, there is a possibility that its performance will decrease. That is the only risk factor involved in this. Everyone is confident that this risk factor will not be present in Akshita's case.

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