'Bionic' ears allow Maddie to hear

I HEAR IT: Madeline Collard hears for the first time through her "bionic ears".
I HEAR IT: Madeline Collard hears for the first time through her "bionic ears".

With the flick of a switch, the silence was over for Invercargill girl Madeline Collard.

A whole new world of sound opened up to the 2-year-old when her "bionic ears" were turned on in Christchurch yesterday.

Madeline, who is profoundly deaf, was the Southern Cochlear Implant Programme's first bilateral implant recipient from Southland.

Madeline Collard
Madeline Collard

The implants, known as bionic ears, provide partial hearing to the deaf.

As noise slowly began infiltrating her life, the toddler discarded her toys and a puzzled expression crossed her face.

She pointed at her ear.

"Can she hear it?" her 6-year-old brother Thomas asked.

"Yes she can," pediatric audiologist Naomi Gibson replied.

Madeline's mother covered her mouth in shock while her father wiped away the tears.

"She has a new world in front of her and it starts today. From now on everything is going to be different," her mother, Vicky Collard, said.

The Invercargill parents "knew something was wrong" very early on in their daughter's life and an audiologist confirmed she had severe hearing loss.

Six months ago Madeline lost all forms of sound and was diagnosed profoundly deaf.

Collard recalled the shock she had felt during one audio test when her daughter had continued to "happily play" while a fire alarm was blaring and every other person in the room was assigned ear-muffs.

"It was quite a shock to find out she wasn't just a little girl with hearing loss, but she was actually deaf," she said.

The toddler is also developmentally delayed and suffers from very poor vision. Several cysts were recently discovered in her head.

Despite her misfortune, Madeline has battled on in silence.

She adapted her own version of sign language and "always has a smile on her face".

"She's just such a happy wee girl and a real battler," Collard said.

Madeline's hearing impairment has resulted in her family of six all learning sign language. Her two older brothers, aged 4 and 6, both sign "Good morning, Maddie" every day.

The Invercargill family drove up to Christchurch's cochlear implant programme, based at St George's Hospital, for Madeline's implants to be switched on, and her grandparents travelled all the way from England to witness the moment.

The Collards are trying to raise $34,000 to help pay for the procedure. The Government funds only one cochlear implant per person.

To make a donation toward Madeline's implants, go to the Facebook page Ears 4 Maddie.


Cochlear implants, commonly known as bionic ears, restore partial hearing to the deaf by bypassing the damaged parts of the ear and stimulating the auditory nerve.

An implant is surgically inserted into the inner ear and activated by an external device that sits behind the ear.

Southern Cochlear Implant Programme audiologist Naomi Gibson said children as young as four months old had been fitted with the implants.

Some children had responded to the implants being turned on by crying, whereas others had "looked up with surprise, as if to say: 'Wow, what's that?'".

Adults who have had the implant turned on often described the initial sound as "chipmunks, Mickey Mouse or the triangle instrument you play at primary school," Gibson said.

Sounds became more decipherable after a few days, she said.

The implant programme's habilitationist, Joanne Lake, said working with cochlear implant recipients was "fantastic".

"You get to see people's lives being changed every day," she said.

They hoped to have Madeline hearing at normal levels within three months.

The Press