JIS News

The first cochlear implant surgery to be undertaken in the Caribbean will be done at the Kingston Public Hospital on Saturday (December 3). The medical team will be led by prominent Jamaican otolaryngologist and surgeon, Dr. Howard Francis of Johns Hopkins University and Dr. Ediel Brown, Chief of the Ear, Nose and Throat facility at the Kingston Public and Bustamante Children’s Hospitals, who is a key figure in the field within the Caribbean.
Efforts to avail Jamaicans of this medical procedure, which will increase public access to contemporary advances in hearing and oral language rehabilitation for the deaf and hard of hearing, began in 1999 with an outreach by Dr. Francis to other practitioners in the region, through the Caribbean Association of Otolaryngologists.
This thrust, which seeks to bring new focus to the field of hearing impairment, also stands to benefit from a developing relationship between Caribbean otolaryngology specialists and counterparts at the world-renowned Johns Hopkins University Hospital. In preparation for Saturday’s medical procedure, Dr. Brown recently participated in a programme facilitated by Dr. Francis at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
A member of the Hopkins medical faculty, Dr. Francis is also chairman of the Clinical Privileges Committee and the Performance Improvement Committee in the school’s Department of Otolaryngology. A graduate of Cornwall College, Dr. Francis received his medical training at the Harvard University Medical School and has been on the Hopkins faculty for the past eight years.
The recipient of Saturday’s cochlear implant is a local teacher who specializes in teaching deaf children. A graduate of the University of the West Indies, she obtained a master’s degree, graduating with honours despite her physical challenge.
“Although she had normal verbal language development as a child she (was affected) with progressive sensorineural hearing loss and has become increasingly hearing-impaired and is now unable to understand most words while wearing powerful hearing aids,” Dr. Francis said.
For his part, Dr. Brown noted that efforts to restore hearing, as well as to assist individuals who have been deaf from birth, was fundamental to improving the quality of life and providing individuals with options that would enhance their overall personal development and aid their productivity.
“Those of us who can hear easily take much for granted. The (deaf) individual is isolated and immersed in a world of signs rather than speech. It not only impacts the individual, but also the family, and, in some cases, families have themselves been held at ransom,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do is not limiting the projects and programmes in Jamaica, but trying to embrace the Caribbean region and see how we can improve the quality of life of those among us who, unfortunately, are unable to hear the way we do and live life the way we have come to know it,” Dr. Brown added.
According to Dr. Francis, the increasing attention being paid to conditions resulting in deafness or hearing impairment has led to a new collaboration in the Caribbean between physicians, audiologists, teachers of the deaf, parents of deaf children and private citizens. This collaborative effort has resulted in the creation of a blueprint for a comprehensive system of early identification and intervention of hearing impairment in Jamaica. “A core multi-disciplinary group are now agents of change as the advocate for improvements in the management of hearing loss in Jamaica and the Caribbean,” he pointed out.
He further noted that these practitioners have come together to form the Caribbean Hearing Health Foundation (CHHF), with a mission to expand opportunities for deaf and hard of hearing children using a three-pronged strategy – early identification of hearing loss, early intervention with hearing aids or cochlear implants, and comprehensive training and educational programmes that promote listening, speaking and reading.
Both physicians also stressed the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the prevalence of hearing impairment among the Jamaican population, noting that the condition was significant relative to other birth defects.
“In 500 births, one child is going to have a significant hearing loss, an additional two or three children might have less severe hearing loss that could (eventually) progress and in addition to that, children are developing hearing loss because of infections such as meningitis,” Dr. Francis said.
“It accounts for at least half the birth defects, but unlike blindness or defects that affect the appearance of someone’s face (there is no obvious physical impairment), so we do not realize how common the problem is,” he added.
While the initial operation will be performed on an adult, it is expected that children will become major beneficiaries of this transformative procedure, which will enable them to effectively function within a normal learning and living environment and decrease, if not eliminate, their reliance on devices and therapies required by the hearing impaired.