The day sound came back
Remiah Turner lost her hearing suddenly last year. In January she got it back, thanks to help at UF Health.
By Dahlia Ghabour
“I can’t hear. Mom, I can’t hear.”
Fifteen-year-old Remiah Turner’s life changed when she woke up one night in October and spoke those words. What started as a vertigo diagnosis had turned severe. Within a few days, her hearing was gone.
“It was terrifying,” said Sherima Cobb, Remiah’s mother. “I didn’t know what was going on with her. They checked her for everything. You name it; they checked her. She didn’t have it.”
For five months, the teen’s life was silent. The ordeal ended at the end of January, when Remiah finished up her latest procedure: restoring her hearing through cochlear implants.
Often, people suffer hearing loss because of damage to the inner ear, or cochlea. A cochlear implant works by doing the job of the cochlea and sending signals to nerves associated with hearing. Kristin Letlow, Au.D., a UF Health audiologist who worked with Remiah, said that the internal cochlear implant is meant to circumvent the damaged cochlea by directly sending electric pulses to the hearing nerve, which then signals the brain.
“She’s going to be a bionic woman,” Letlow said. “We’re stimulating the nerve in its own language. At first it sounds kind of weird, like a robot, because your brain has to learn the new code.”
Letlow linked speech processors outside Remiah’s ears and began running beep tests. When all was ready, she nodded at Cobb that it was time.
Her mother said ‘Hello.’ Remiah burst into laughter.
“Remiah, what do I sound like?” she said.
“You sound funny,” Remiah said. “Like a chipmunk.”
The family was all smiles and laughter, already planning Remiah’s “Sweet 16” now that she could hear again. She received a “care package” with batteries, cases, instructions and even a waterproof set of processors for swimming.
Rodrigo Silva, M.D., the otolaryngologist who performed Remiah’s implant surgery Jan. 5, said her case was an unusual one. The hospital completes 40 to 50 implant procedures a year. Usually, congenital deafness strikes a child at birth. Remiah went completely deaf in a matter of days.
Doctors concluded that she had an autoimmune disease that caused her body to attack her joints, liver and ears. Silva said the disease could cause scarring in the inner ear that would make implant surgery impossible, so they had to act fast.
“She always had a positive attitude, even in the face of this situation,” he said.
Remiah’s mother said she felt blessed.