KUCHING: About 60 babies are born annually in Sarawak with hearing loss of a congenital form as gauged against internationally published data on hearing loss of one baby in every thousand newborn.
Live births in Sarawak are around 35,000 a year.
However, the data also revealed one out of 222 children suffers from moderate to profound hearing loss among 3- to 7-year-olds, meaning 30 to 55 per cent of hearing loss occurred after birth due to various causes such as ear infection, brain injury, trauma as well as genetic and other conditions.
In a letter to the media yesterday, National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) president Dato' Dr Amar Singh HSS conveyed encouraging news of some wonderful children who spoke and performed at the recently concluded 5th National Early Childhood Intervention Conference.
"The conference was a success not just because of the 1,000 children, parents, professionals and NGOs taking part but because of the wonderful children who spoke or performed," he said.
One of them was Natalie Dong.
Standing proudly on a stool behind a rostrum, the 10-year-old emceed at the opening ceremony.
She introduced the guests and speakers without showing any signs of stage fright. She was like a very outstanding primary school student, representing her school in debate or speech competitions.
None, except her family or those who know her personally, would suspect she has hearing impairment.
Natalie was born with hearing loss but for her to be able to behave like any normal children, attending mainstream primary school, playing the piano and practising taekwondo, credit goes to a devoted father who knows early childhood intervention is the key to overcoming disabilities.
When it was confirmed that his second daughter Natalie suffered from hearing disability, 42-year-old Raymond Dong did not dither but instantly embarked on the search for a treatment and cure.
"At 11 months old, Natalie went through the cochlear implant surgery for the first ear. Four years later, she had another surgery for her second ear," recalled Raymond, an insurance advisor from Sibu who now lives in Kuala Lumpur.
In a telephone interview, he told The Borneo Post that after the implant, Natalie went through speech therapy and other innovative speech therapeutic methods to pick up languages and improve her hearing ability.
After countless hours of therapy, Natalie now can speak three languages - Chinese, English and Bahasa Malaysia - with the aid of cochlear implants.
With a wealth of knowledge under his belt, coupled with the understanding of the agony involved in seeking the best treatment for a hearing-impaired child, Raymond has come out with a book - Natalie Dong's Cochlear Implant Story Book in English and Chinese - to share her learning odyssey as a new born with hearing loss until she was six years old.
"When we knew she had hearing problems, we search everywhere for the best solution for her. We hope through the book, parents will not have to go through what we have gone through," said Raymond, whose other children, an 11-year-old boy, and two young girls, aged six and three, were born totally healthy.
He said there were more hearing impaired cases than society would like to admit.
As far as he knows, a few of his friends in Kuching have children with the same disability as Natalie's.
He called on parents to make sure their babies go through health screening after birth.
"I'm not sure about Kuching but in Kuala Lumpur, every baby goes through such a screening. That was how Natalie's disability was detected.
"Early intervention is crucial. There is a higher chance for disability to be corrected if the children are given the chance for treatment at an early age. Actually, the earlier the better," Raymond stressed.
Meanwhile, when contacted, Dr Toh Teck Hock, paediatrician of the Sibu Hospital, said Natalie had been able to function like other normal children because of cochlear implants which are common in developed countries for profound deafness or those hard on hearing.
"They are effective, especially when implanted at a young age - during the critical period when children's brains are learning to interpret sounds," said Dr Toh, a committee member of NECIC.
However, he pointed out that cochlear implants may be the solution to most, but not all, hearing impaired cases.
"Also, the device is very expensive, and has to be implanted through surgery. After the implantation, there must be post-implantation therapy to help the children learn. Without proper therapy after the implantation, the disabled children will still remain unable to speak or listen," Dr Toh cautioned.
He said early childhood intervention is crucial in overcoming disability, adding that seeking treatment for children with disability and providing them with quality intervention will give them a higher chance to function and live normally like other children.
"In Malaysia, including Sarawak, children at risk of hearing loss are checked in hospitals at birth, and some government hospitals also offer universal hearing screening for all newborns - a good programme we would like to see provided for all newborns," Dr Toh said.
The Borneo Post Online
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