Cochlear implant for faked-hearing-test infant

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 19/03/2013
Addison Blundell with mum Kerrie MacKay and dad Rawiri Blundell.
DIEGO OPATOWSKI/Fairfax NZ

DEDICATED PARENTS: Addison Blundell with mum Kerrie MacKay and dad Rawiri Blundell.

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Little Addison Blundell will finally get a cochlear implant this week, but a faked hearing test she received as a newborn has slowed her development and scuttled plans to raise money for a second implant.

"This is not a situation I would wish on any family," said the 14-month-old's father, Rawiri Blundell.

Addison's congenital hearing loss should have been picked up within days of her birth, but a Hutt Hospital screener used her own hearing result and forged the paperwork. She later resigned.

The Lower Hutt toddler was the first known victim of a failure in newborn hearing tests, which affected 2000 infants nationwide.

Earlier this year, a Ministry of Health investigation found eight screeners, out of about 108, had not followed protocol by either screening the same ear of a baby twice, or their own ears instead of the baby's. The problems dated back to 2010.

Mr Blundell said he and his partner, Kerrie MacKay, bore no grudge against Hutt Hospital. But the delay in finding Addison's deafness had slowed her development, and dashed hopes of finding enough money for a second implant.

Addison cannot hear or speak. She will need years of state-funded speech therapy to bring her up to speed with other children.

One implant is publicly funded, but a second costs $50,000.

Most parents have at least six months to find the money. However, Addison's parents had just 2 months, after her hearing loss was finally picked up when she was 10 months old.

So far, her parents have raised just $2000 on the givealittle.co.nz website.

Addison is scheduled to receive a single cochlear implant in Christchurch this week.

Mr Blundell said it made sense for Addison and other deaf children to receive double cochlear implants.

If done simultaneously, a second implant costs $34,000.

A double implant helped children hear better and learn faster. It also spared children and parents the trauma of two operations.

Mr Blundell said the family would consider trying to get a double transplant for Addison, even though it would leave them in a $50,000 financial hole.

A Hutt Valley District Health Board spokesman said it was following recommendations made by the ministry to ensure that screeners performed hearing tests correctly.

Ministry child and youth health chief adviser Pat Tuohy said single-cochlear implants ensured people could hear, and helped most children develop their language skills.

"International evidence indicates that the earlier a child receives an implant, the better the outcome. Implants before the age of 18 months are generally associated with good outcomes."

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