At the sound of her mother's proud voice, this little girl cracks a big smile and breaks into the sweetest happy dance you'll see all day.
Three-year-old Kennedy Steele was born without hearing nerves to carry sound signals from her ear to the brain. She'd lived in complete silence until doctors at NYU Langone Medical Center stimulated her neurons with an auditory brainstem implant.
Because she doesn't have cochlear nerves, a commonly used cochlear implant wouldn't help her.
"We have to go one step further up the brainstem,” Lorinda Klein, a publicist at the New York City hospital, told The Huffington Post. Doctors do this by implanting a microchip into the brainstem that stimulates the neurons associated with hearing.
Doctors put the implant into Kennedy's brainstem in December. This month, they tested it for the first time.
In the video above, an audiologist tests Kennedy by making a noise. Klein explains the audiologist covers her mouth with a black paddle to hide whether her mouth is moving; Kennedy's gleeful reaction shows sound is getting through.
“They don’t know what she was hearing, but she was hearing something,” Klein said.
Kennedy will need speech therapy to understand what people are saying, but since her brain is young, she should be able to adapt, Klein said.
CBS reports that auditory brain implants are used on older patients, and the FDA has authorized testing the technology on children at four hospitals, including Langone.
"Early results are quite encouraging, " Dr. J. Thomas Roland, Jr., chair of the department of otolaryngology, told the outlet. "We think that these kids are getting auditory information and are on a trajectory to develop oral language acquisition and oral speech."
Kennedy's mother is pleased to hear it. ""My family is looking forward to getting to communicate better with her. That's been the most important thing," she told CBS.
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