TAMPA, Fla. – Many think of cochlear implants as being mostly for older patients, but one doctor at Tampa General Hospital is pushing to make them more accessible for even the youngest patients.

What You Need To Know

  • Selene Bergeron, 22 months old, was born deaf in her right ear

  • She has received a cochlear implant, which normally doesn't happen until a child is older

  • TGH doctor believes waiting causes irreversible hearing deficits, not to mention delayed language development

  • More Health headlines

Selene Bergeron is a happy-go-lucky 22-month-old and one of the only patients in Florida to receive a single-sided cochlear implant.

She was born deaf in her right ear, and doctors still don’t know why.

“After we got (the diagnosis), it’s not only that they tell you she’s deaf in her right ear, they also have to find out, 'OK, is there something else going on?'” her mom Sharlene Bergeron said.

Shortly after the diagnosis, Bergeron found out about cochlear implants.

Unfortunately, it’s not a common procedure in kids with single-sided deafness, and it’s typically done after age 5.

“This group of children are often kind of ignored,” said Dr. Loren Bartels, director of the Tampa Bay Hearing and Balance Center at TGH.

Bartels argues that waiting until age 5 causes irreversible hearing deficits, not to mention delayed language development.

Waiting until a child is 7, for example, says Bartels, can do more harm than good because the brain can no longer process the new sound input in an appropriate way.

Due to lack of research, the implants haven’t been performed in very many patients with single-sided deafness, let alone ones as young as Selene.

But the Bergerons, along with Bartels, weren’t going to let that stop Selene from having the life she deserves.

“We’ve been fighting for a long time and there’s a lot that you have to go though and it’s scary. Not knowing what’s going to happen in her future,” Bergeron said.

Selene is just the fourth patient in Florida to receive a single-sided cochlear implant at such an early age.

The hope is that it’ll pave the way for others like her.

“The proof has come out in the last few years, so with now published proof of benefit, this is something that needs to be done more routinely,” Bartels said.

Selene finally got her implant in early March.

When doctors activated her device for the first time, she instantly started recognizing directional sound. Bartels calls that a success.

As her mom and dad got further instructions on her new ‘magic ear’, Selene happily jammed away on a xylophone. The notes – a melody to her ears.