Cochlear Implant patients no longer have to travel south

 By: Michael Forbes

Life has become a whole lot easier for people in the lower North Island with cochlear implants, who no longer have to travel to Christchurch for treatment.

A new unit, established by the Christchurch-based Southern Cochlear Implant Programme, was opened in Lower Hutt on Thursday by Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne.

Cochlear implants are similar in size to high-powered hearing aids. They help people who gain little or no benefit from standard hearing aids by transforming speech and other sounds into electrical energy that stimulates auditory nerve fibres in the inner ear.

Seven-year-old James Whale, from Wellington, is one of those people. He began to lose his hearing when he was just three weeks old, as a consequence of pneumococcal meningitis.

Having his two cochlear implants fitted meant fortnightly trips to Christchurch at first. They were eventually scaled back to every six months or so, and then annually.

His mother, Kate, said that meant a whole day of travel for her and James, just to attended a 60-minute appointment.

"It's a very long day for a small person ... we try and make it as exciting as possible, but a McDonald's lunch only goes so far," she said.

"So for us here in Wellington, to have this facility close by has just been wonderful."

Kate Hooper, of Greytown, agreed. Her 4-year-old daughter Lily also uses two cochlear devices, and having the new Lower Hutt service would eliminate a lot of the stress of having regular check-ups

For me, I've got to organise someone to pick up my two boys from school and look after them until their dad For me, I've got to organise someone to pick up my two boys from school and look after them until their dad can get home from work. And all the travel is exhausting," Hooper said.

 "It will be a lot easier having the new facility. We'll just have to get in the car and drive for an hour from Greytown to Wellington."

Southern Cochlear Implant Programme general manager Neil Heslop said about 40 per cent of the programme's 680 patients live in the North Island.

The Lower Hutt unit would provide six clinical spaces, two sound-treated rooms for audiology work, and a room for teleconferencing and telemedicine. It also houses a habilitation service, he said.

Dunne said it was encouraging to see new services such as this being established in the Wellington region during tight financial times.

Source: Stuff