Dubai, UAE: In a world without sound, the future of two-year-old Hana Sarmiento looked far from certain. Her Filipino parents, a dock worker and teaching assistant, had little means to pay for the Dh120,000 operation needed to restore her hearing after the toddler went deaf when struck down by a virus.
Alvin and Analyn Sarmiento, both 35, have said the intervention of the Al Jalila Foundation has given their daughter a brighter future, and Hana’s recovery as a “miracle”.
The charity stepped in after a doctor treating Hana at the HearLife clinic in Dubai Healthcare City said the family would qualify for financial support.
No hearing test was conducted on Hana when she was born in Sharjah, so it is unclear whether she had any pre-existing problem.
But, at 10 months old, she picked up a viral infection during a trip back to the family home in the Philippines. Her mother, who lives in Satwa, first had an inkling about Hana’s deafness when her nephew came to stay.
“He was very loud, and Hana didn’t wake up when she was sleeping despite there being a lot of noise. At first, we thought she was just in a deep sleep,” said Mrs Sarmiento.
However, the mother’s worries increased when Hana began to talk. She found it hard to copy what her parents were encouraging her to say.
On her first birthday, they took her to see a doctor who confirmed that Hana had only 30 per cent hearing in one ear and was completely deaf in the other.
Mr Sarmiento said: “I came home from work one day and I was calling her name out. When she didn’t respond I touched her on the shoulder and she was so shocked to see me. It was then I knew she couldn’t hear properly and needed to see a doctor.”
Hana, who has a seven-month-old brother, Nathaniel, underwent auditory brainstem response tests to give doctors an indication of her hearing loss. The test gives information about the inner ear (cochlea) and brain pathways for hearing. It can be used with children or others who have a difficult time with conventional behavioural methods of hearing screening.
“The doctor said we had two options,” Mrs Sarmiento added.“We could see if a hearing aid would help, but the best option was a cochlear implant. He said it was very expensive, around Dh120,000. I was in shock. There was no way we could afford it. As a parent, you want to give them the normal life that they deserve.”
A cochlear implant is an electronic medical device that does the work of damaged parts of the inner ear to provide sound signals to the brain.
Hana’s father said: “We were afraid of the surgery, as it was such a major operation. Hana is so small, we were worried something could go wrong.
“But we were so happy that Al Jalila could help us – it was a miracle.”
The two-hour surgery conducted on December 2 last year was a success, and Hana was soon home to begin her recovery and start learning what she could not before. The device will need constant updates as Hana grows and gets used to the implant and as the brain learns to live with the device.
Dr Bassel Chaykhouny, who treated Hana at the HearLife clinic, said: “To see the smile on her face now and how she is progressing is very rewarding.
“Without the help of the charity, we cannot help children like Hana. Hearing tests on newborns and young children are so important. We want to see it mandatory in the UAE.”
Hana’s hearing treatment is the second cochlear implant Al Jalila Foundation has sponsored. A 5-year old Jordanian, Remas Mousa, was deaf in one ear before his treatment but has also had his hearing restored.
The charity’s A’awen programme provides practical assistance and financial aid to UAE-based patients who do not have access to the best quality healthcare.
Last year, the foundation invested Dh1.5 million in treating more than 40 patients. All donations directly pay for research or treatment.
Dr Abdulkareem Al Olama is the chief executive of the Al Jalila Foundation, which launched in 2013 by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
Dr Al Olama said: “I am very proud of all our children, particularly Hana. She can now fulfil her potential. It is a miracle she can now hear and talk.”
© The NationalMar 2015