KELLY Henare remembers the first time her 2-year-old son heard bird-song.
Seven years later, he is an avid outdoorsman with a zest for life – all thanks to “life-changing” cochlear implants.
“We thought he was just a hands-on kid, a bit naughty actually, and it wasn’t until my mother stood behind him and clapped – he didn’t even flinch,” Ms Henare said.
Nine-year-old Lucas Robinson, of Invercargill was diagnosed with a hearing condition called auditory neuropathy in 2010.
“It was actually a huge shock, neither of our sides of the family have any history with hearing problems.”
An Auditory Brainstem Response test revealed he was profoundly deaf in one ear and severe to moderate in the other, she said.
“It was really upsetting at the time to know he had missed out on sound for nearly two years of his life and we had no idea.”
From then he was given hearing aids and made several trips to Dunedin and Southland hospitals to meet with audiologists.
Lucas began to learn how to listen from Resource Teachers of the Deaf, an initiative funded by the Van Asch and Kelston Deaf Education centres.
“They explained to us babies hear in the womb so when they’re born, they’ve already had a good nine months of hearing, whereas Lucas hadn’t had anything.”
Although they had “a lot of support”, after 18 months, Lucas still did not have consistent hearing.
“What he heard would cut in and out, they explained it to us like a radio frequency.”
Eventually he was referred to the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme [SCIP] in Christchurch, where he received one cochlear implant.
“It wasn’t a massive moment when it switched on but when we were heading back to the hotel, he had learned baby sign language and asked what the sound was outside – that’s when I realised he could hear the birds.”
Aged 4 the Government approved funding for Lucas’ second implant.
“He just wants to experience everything now, he’s like every 9-year-old boy, nothing holds him back.”
With the help of Resource Teachers of the Deaf, he was now “on par” with his peers, she said.
“We couldn’t reason with him before the implants, it’d turn into tantrums because we couldn’t communicate, all of that has disappeared.”
Ms Henare said medical professionals and Lucas’ school, Donovan Primary, had been “amazing support”.
Last year, Lucas wore a bright shirt for Loud Shirt Day – an event held by SCIP in conjunction with the Hearing House – to raise funds for paediatric programmes.
This year, the event would be held on September 27 nationwide.
“No amount of money can compare to what implants have done for us, it is so important to raise money for these charities,” Ms Henare said.