Chapel Hill, N.C. — Cochlear implants have helped many children learn to listen and speak normally, but they aren't the answer for children born without a cochlear nerve.
Using a new type of hearing implant for children that is placed directly on the brain stem, doctors at UNC Hospitals have new ways to help children born into a silent world.
Grayson Clamp, who was born with Charge Syndrome, recently became the first child to receive an auditory brain stem implant as part of a Food and Drug Administration trial.
Craig Buchman, an otolaryngologist at UNC, said Clamp's condition is genetic.
"It results in a number of different problems, one of which is hearing loss," Buchman said.
After Len and Nicole Clamp adopted Grayson, they began working with UNC doctors to help him hear. Doctors started by giving him a cochlear implant, but because he was born without a cochlear nerve, there was nothing for the implant to stimulate.
The only option left was the brain stem implant.
"We bypassed the area where there is no cochlear nerve, and we applied the electrodes directly to the brain stem," Buchman said.
When he saw his son hear for the first time, Len Clamp said the feeling was one he'll never forget.
"I've never seen another look like that," he said. "I mean he looked deep into my eyes and he was hearing my voice for the first time."
Doctors start by setting frequencies in the implant for up to 20 electrodes. Each tone gets Grayson's attention and is followed by a picture on the computer.
Grayson will continue to go through several years of special hearing and speech therapy at UNC, but he is on his way to hearing more normally.
"He is a very determined little boy," Nicole Clamp said. "He makes up his mind, he is going to do something. He's going to do it."