Maggie's Story

Breaking the Sound Barrier: Teen Girl Born Deaf Receives the Gift of Hearing

 

Maggie Gleason was born a fighter. She flatlined twice at birth. Her lungs collapsed. Her kidneys and heart were weak. She had a cleft palate and needed a feeding tube. The 14-year-old from Lorain, Ohio, adapted and overcame through surgery and fortitude.

Yet one condition seemed beyond hope: Maggie, 14, was also born deaf. She had no cochleas – the small, snail-shaped inner ear bones that house the auditory nerve.

“As a parent, you want to know your child will be safe and independent if you’re not around to guide her,” said Maggie’s mother, Joanne Gleason. “To watch someone you love be shut out of so many experiences and opportunities can be heartbreaking.”

Then, last spring, UH ear, nose and throat surgeon Cliff Megerian, MD, offered a possibility to the Gleasons: A device called an auditory brainstem implant (ABI) might work. An ABI usually restores hearing for adults who become deaf from auditory-nerve damage.

An auditory brainstem implant comprises a microphone-like “audio processor” worn behind the ear, and tiny platinum electrodes surgically placed on the brainstem. Like an ear, an ABI translates sound waves into electrical impulses. These signals travel by wire from the processor to the electrodes, bypassing the inner ear completely.

Like an ear, it translates sound waves into electrical impulses. These signals travel from a microphone like processor to electrodes placed on the brainstem, bypassing the inner ear completely.

University Hospitals physicians, including Maroun Semaan, MD (left), helped 14-year-old Maggie Gleason hear for the first time.

This operation had rarely been tried on a child in the United States. It would be delicate and complex, and might not work. Yet the Gleasons approved. So in September 2014, UH surgeons under the direction of Maroun Semaan, MD, performed the 10-hour procedure.

For months, the Gleasons waited while Maggie healed. Finally, on Dec. 28, Maggie and her mother, father and sister crowded into a room at UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. Doctors turned on the device. Then Maggie’s dad, Frank, called her name.

Maggie’s eyebrows shot up and her eyes widened. Her smile gave confirmation: She heard.

“I always felt I would have a lot to say to her when the moment came,” said Mr. Gleason, “but I was left speechless.”

Thanks to a family who has never left her side and a team of experts who never gave up, Maggie enjoys exploring her new world of sound – the gurgling of running water, the barking of her dog, Lola, and her favorite: her dad calling her name.

Millions worldwide shared her magic moment online and you can, too.