Respecting Charlie's choices
When Charlie (8) became frustrated wearing the soft band that allowed him to use his Baha, mum Tina supported his choice to have an operation so he could use the hearing aid without it.
The effect was immediate when Charlie, then five, first tried a bone conduction hearing aid, commonly referred to as a Baha. “I can hear in two ears!” he excitedly told mum Tina, whose eyes filled with tears. In that moment, she knew a Baha was right for her son.
“He was beaming,” Tina recalls. “That was a lightbulb moment for me. We’d never been offered anything like it before, but I thought to myself, ‘Why can’t he have one?’”
Charlie was born with microtia – an under-developed outer ear – and a profound hearing loss on his left side. Support had been limited for the family, with professionals insisting Charlie didn’t need a hearing aid as the hearing loss was only on one side. “His speech developed well and he was top of his class at school so we’d never considered getting him one,” says Tina. “We only discovered it was an option at a Microtia UK charity event.”
Two months after the chance discovery of a bone-conduction hearing aid, fitted on a soft band, the family secured one on a permanent basis from the audiology department at the local hospital. Charlie noticed a big difference, especially at school.
“Although he was doing well, Charlie had struggled with background noise,” says Tina. “When it was loud, he would sometimes miss things and switch off.” With the hearing aid in place, Charlie’s teacher could use a mini microphone. It directs sound straight to Charlie’s hearing aid, cutting out any noise in between so he can hear her clearly. “It’s really helped him excel and he even took up additional maths shortly after getting it,” says Tina.
Despite the difference the hearing aid made, it wasn’t long before Charlie became frustrated with the soft band. “It pushed his hair up and he was becoming more self-aware,” says Tina.
Tina and husband Ashley had always shared as much information as possible with Charlie. They told him about an implant secured to the bone that could magnetically attach the hearing aid to his head, meaning he could wear it without a soft band. Within a few months of wearing the band, Charlie was sure he wanted to have surgery to fit the implant. “I didn’t like the band,” says Charlie. “I hated having it go around my head.”
Just over a year after first having the hearing aid, Charlie, then six, was booked in for the operation. Although it was Charlie’s choice, it was an anxious time for the family who did a lot to prepare themselves.
“It was important to me that Charlie was fully informed on what would happen,” says Tina. “We had an appointment a couple of weeks before the operation and they helped explain things in a very child-friendly way. They used a teddy to show how they would send him to sleep, where they would make the cut and they explained that they’d need to shave some hair off.”
Although informed, Charlie was still nervous. “I was quite petrified about having the operation but I knew it would be worth it in the end,” he says.
Tina was nervous too, especially since she’d be taking Charlie to the hospital on her own with Ashley at home looking after their other three sons. Determined not to let Charlie see her nerves, Tina did as much to prepare herself as she could. “I read up a lot and also asked other parents about their experiences,” she says. “Knowing what others had been through helped me put a brave face on for Charlie.”
When the day of the surgery arrived, practicalities like the hospital being an hour’s drive away, getting there for 7am and Charlie not being able to eat anything that morning all made things tense. Speaking to the surgeon helped put them both at ease though. “The staff were great and always made sure we were OK, but I did have a little cry when they sent him down for surgery!” says Tina.
"I was quite petrified about having the operation but I knew it would be worth it in the end."
In just over an hour, the operation was complete. Tina found it a shock to see the stitches, along with some swelling and bruising, but keeping Ashley informed throughout the day with messages and pictures helped them both cope.
Charlie was allowed home the same day and quickly began to recover. “The bandage came off the day after the operation, the stitches dissolved quickly and he only took a few days off school,” explains Tina.
When Charlie’s hearing aid was reprogrammed to be compatible with the implant, Tina recalls him looking up at her and saying, ‘Mummy, the wind!’ “It must have sounded different to him with the hearing aid attached to his head,” says Tina. “His face lit up and that’s when I realised we’d made the right decision.”
Charlie quickly adapted to the new hearing aid with just a few differences from the soft band to get used to. The hearing aid is now attached to Charlie’s head with a soft pad to prevent his head getting sore and a safety line which clips to his clothing so the hearing aid won’t fall to the floor if he knocks it.
Charlie hasn’t looked back since having the implant fitted. “It makes a big difference to me not having the band,” says Charlie. “I can hear better and I have more confidence.”
Tina has noticed the difference, too. “Charlie is very proud of himself and his condition,” she says. “He has the option of surgery to reconstruct the ear but he doesn’t want it. He’s just happy to be himself.”