We’ve all seen the viral videos online of children born deaf hearing their parent’s voice for the first time and lighting up with glee or breaking into sobs at the foreign sensation of audibility. But what many of us do not realize is that behind that technology, be it a common hearing aid or a cochlear implant, were ambitious researchers and a brave group of patients willing to give it a shot in a clinical trial.
Today, hundreds of thousands of clinical trials and studies are ongoing, and they may lead to the next big advancement in restoring lost hearing or improving the quality of life for those individuals living with it.
Years ago, Sonia Morreale didn’t hesitate to sign her son, Justin, then 8, up for a clinical study on how children who grow up with cochlear implants tend to fare in language and comprehension. “I wanted to know that information,” she shares. “And I knew that it would help not just my own child, but that [the researchers] would be giving this information to other parents.”
As the results suggest, and as Justin demonstrates, growing up with cochlear implants isn’t as limiting as many may suspect. Now age 16 and living with two cochlear implants to correct the genetic profound deafness he was born with, Justin has over a 4.0 GPA, is enrolled in AP and honors classes and is in the process of getting his driver’s license.
From the moment she heard Justin cry at the sound of her voice after receiving his first cochlear implant at age 2, Sonia knew the future held big things for her teenage son. “It gave me a lot of hope.”
Dr. Laurie Eisenberg, professor of research otolaryngology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, which conducts the study, says the Morreales’ inspiring story is one of many she’s seen in the 41 years she has worked in the field.
“Seeing a patient hear for the first time is always an emotional experience,” Eisenberg explains.
She notes that while some patients may be hesitant to enroll in trials due to safety concerns or feeling inconvenienced about travel, those who do enroll are carrying out a selfless act. “Many adults feel like, ‘If I can help a child, then maybe it is worth it,’” Eisenberg says. “It’s an intrinsic motivation that, ‘My experience and involvement in science can help others.’”
Sonia put it simply: “I just think that, as a parent, I don’t see any cons — I see only the opportunity for gain.”