Harlem Student, Hears For The First Time Thanks To Lenox Hill

June 5, 2014

deafA 20-year-old Harlem student who has spent the majority of his life in silence has been given the chance to hear clearly after being fitted with a state-of-the-art hearing aid.

Terrell Davis, who is legally deaf, was fitted Tuesday with a cutting-edge, magnetic, bone-anchored hearing aid at Lenox Hill Hospital.

“It’s so exciting for us,” his mother Brenda said. “It’s the one thing that he wanted.”

Davis, a shy, soft-spoken young man, let his mother do most of the talking at his activation with audiologist Philip Vazquez on Tuesday. “(He’s) a man of little words, but he’s very moved,” Brenda said.

Davis, the youngest of three sons, was born with two malfunctioning ears. His right one looked normal but did not work. His left ear canal was full of bone and the outer ear was missing. He barely heard over the years, communicating verbally at home and via sign language in public.

The new implant comes at an emotional time for Davis. On June 25, he turns 21. The following day, he graduates from 47 The American Sign Language and English Secondary School, and will hear his name called out in public for the first time ever.

When his mother was diagnosed with colon cancer in 2002, she knew more needed to be done in case anything ever happened to her.

“He has to live in this world,” she says about her son, who loves to cook and is taking culinary classes. “I wanted to be sure that Terrell was gonna be OK. I can’t protect him forever.”

Brenda — who has cancer that is now in remission — had heard about the Little Baby Face Foundation, which provides indigent children free reconstructive surgery for any facial deformity. She contacted the organization and connected with Diane Romo, the wife of Dr. Thomas Romo, director of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital and the Manhattan Eye, Ear and Throat Hospital.

“I was just so lucky,” she said, becoming emotional. “She made everything happen. She just embraced us and said, ‘We can help.'”

Romo enlists 30 physicians for his foundation, who donate their time and services. Cases are reviewed by a medical advisory board and every year about 30-50 children are taken on. But there are “hundreds waiting from around the world,” Romo said.

Still, he is cognizant of the need for these procedures right in our backyard.

“We don’t have to go to India,” he said. “All we have to do is go to Harlem.”

Romo is in talks with North Shore LIJ/Lenox Hill executives (North Shore LIJ owns Lenox Hill), as well as city council members and even the mayoral office to expand his foundation’s reach.

“This kind of falls into the mission statement of de Blasio,” he said, referencing the mayor’s push for equality in the city.

In 2005, Romo created an outer ear for Davis. But he still couldn’t hear. After the cosmetic procedure, it was time to reconstruct the young man’s hearing. Romo called in Darius Kohan, director of otology at Lenox Hill Hospital/Manhattan Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital.

Because Davis was born without an ear canal, he couldn’t wear a standard hearing aid. So Kohan started with a bone-anchored hearing aid that vibrates the cochlea directly, since the bones in the middle of his ear — the middlemen to hearing — didn’t work.

He’s a man of little words, but he’s very moved.

The device left a metal pin above Davis’ ear, but it constantly became infected and Davis, as is typical for someone his age, had concerns about his appearance. Davis’ team decided to go a different route.

One month ago, Davis had the magnet implanted in his head. Romo also performed a cosmetic procedure to further alter his nose, chin and ears. On Tuesday, Davis received the rest of his magnetic bone-anchored hearing aid. He is one of about 20 people across the country to have one, and the first one inserted and activated in the U.S. was done at Lenox Hill.

The device, already popular in Europe, was just approved by the FDA in December. There is no unsightly metal pin — the device is a small magnet on Davis’ head that unsticks easily and leaves no residue.

“He gets the same benefit and this is something that he will be willing to use,” Kohan said.

In the audiologist’s office, Brenda and her son conversed to test out the new device. But the one word Brenda kept repeating was a simple one: “Wow” (source).

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