Mary was born in the Philippines. A premature baby, she contracted meningitis at the age of two and as a result, lost her hearing. When she didn’t develop speech, it was initially thought to be due to developmental delays as a result of her premature birth.
For Mary’s Dad, Phillip, who was born and raised in Darwin, music is a big part of his life and the way he connects with his Philippine and Indigenous background. Phillip recognised that Mary wasn’t responding to sound, and decided to bring her to Australia to access specialist treatment.
‘It was a long road to get Mary to Australia, but we were finally able to get her here in 2019,’ he says.
By that time, Mary was five and, due to her profound hearing loss, was non-verbal. Phillip says he immediately started the process of getting her hearing loss diagnosed so they could explore their options.
Following her hearing test, Mary was immediately referred to NextSense. With no spoken language or formal sign language, the NextSense Darwin team realised they needed to move quickly to get Mary access to sound and communication.
‘Mary was assessed for cochlear implants by the NextSense team and was implanted at Royal Darwin Hospital within five months,’ says NextSense audiologist, Kerry Bell.
Having recovered well, Mary had her implants switched on one week after her surgery, attended by her family, including her Mum and Dad, Jufiel and Phillip and her Aunty Kim. ‘The switch-on went smoothly, but as we expected after such a long time with profound hearing loss, Mary had no behavioural responses to sound, and we knew she had a long journey ahead,’ says Kerry.
Mary’s family and the NextSense team moved quickly to teach Mary Auslan – giving her access to language. Shortly after, Aunty Kim reported that Mary was looking around more and responding to sounds behind her, such as a rattle.
After experiencing profound hearing loss for much of her early life, Mary’s family are aware that she may not develop speech, but Phillip is pleased he has given her access to something important to the family – music. ‘I love music and it’s a really big part of my life. Seeing Mary enjoying music is something I thought I may never see. Today, she loves to dance, and she even mimes singing into a microphone.’
Just like any child her age, Mary loves dancing, colouring in and playing with her toys. And while Phillip says he is hopeful that speech will come, he is pleased that she now has access to sound, and language via Auslan. ‘Of course, we’d love it if Mary could learn to speak, but we also know that being able to hear and using Auslan will give her a chance to be independent as she gets older. This wouldn’t have happened if we weren’t able to bring her to Darwin and get her access to the right supports.’