YORKTOWN — 10-month-old Everett Colley was born with total hearing loss in both ears.
When he failed his first newborn hearing screening test, Everett’s parents, Ashley and Zachary Colley of Yorktown, did not think anything of it.
“My other kids failed also, they just had fluid in their ears,” Ashley said. “So we went back, I think it was a month later, and they did the same test again and he failed that.”
After an auditory brainstem response (ABR) test, doctors confirmed that Everett had severe-to-profound hearing loss in both ears.
“I was shocked,” Ashley said.
Ashley and Zachary struggled with being unable to communicate with their child like most parents can.
“It was hard. It was really hard,” Ashley said. “With our other boys, we could just hold them in our arms and shush them or sing to them. We love music. We would try to sing to him and nothing worked.”
Joining Facebook pages with other moms in similar situations helped Ashley come to terms with everything.
“I thought of it negatively at first, you know my baby’s deaf, and it was so foreign to me,” she said. “And seeing those other moms and their journeys, I mean it totally changed my perspective. And this has been the best journey.”
Then, the Colleys were offered the option of a cochlear implant for Everett, which is a small electronic device that sends sound directly to the nerve.
Everett’s surgery was Dec. 6, when the internal piece was put in, and the activation date for his implant was Dec. 20; when the external piece was placed. Thanks to his new cochlear implant, Everett was able to experience sound for the first time — a moment that was captured in a heartwarming video.
In the video, Everett is seen smiling happily as he hears his mom and dad speaking to him for the first time.
“I love you,” Ashley tells Everett, before he smiles and hugs her.
“I went there with no expectations, because it’s not always a YouTube moment,” Ashley said. “So to get a response like that from him and to get him to come to me for comfort, it was really, really cool.”
While the video has since gone viral, Everett’s audiologist Debbie Hatch said that those moments are rare as the process typically takes a little longer for an effect.
“You don’t get those YouTube videos often,” she laughed. “When you do, great. But it takes a long time to get kids up and running. Basically, the first day we turn them on, my goal is that we get them wearing the processors.
Describing Everett as a 10-month-old with newborn ears, Hatch said that she strongly recommends to parents auditory verbal therapy for the baby, which is run by a speech pathologist.
“So even though babies don’t talk, when they’re first born, they are learning an amazing amount of information over that first year,” she said. “Our goal for them is to go to kindergarten with their normal-hearing peers and not need any services.”
Ashley said that the family is learning sign language now to communicate with Everett, who she said has been tolerating the implant well.
“You know, he‘s still deaf, so we just always want to have a way to communicate with him whether he’s wearing them or not,” she said.
The first cochlear implant was introduced in the 1970s.
“They’ve definitely been around for a while, but not around long enough for us to have all the answers,” Hatch said. “We don’t know things, like how long can they expect that internal device to last for a baby who gets implanted now. We haven’t really had anybody do an entire life span to see.”
Everett’s surgeon, Dr. Stephanie Moody Antonio, said that it is important for children to receive implants early on, like Everett did.
“When children are born completely deaf, they do better the sooner we can do the implant,” she said. “The reason for that is deprivation. When you’re born deaf, you have no auditory input whatsoever. So basically, by the time you get your implant, if we wait too long, the brain hasn’t had the opportunity to develop the hearing part of the central auditory system.”
While Dr. Moody said that families sometimes have reservations about the surgery due to the anesthesia component. However, Dr. Moody said that the surgery is outpatient, with very little discomfort.
“As far as ear surgeries go, it’s very straightforward,” Dr. Moody said. “And kids bounce back very quickly.”
Ashley said that she is excited for all of the new “firsts” they get to experience with Everett.
“I’m really excited for him to just be able to hear us tell him that we love him,” she said. “We were at Busch Gardens and he heard the train, so that was super cool. It’s just little things.”