You only need to skim the hundreds of videos on YouTube to understand the special milestone when a child’s cochlear implant being switched on to hear sound for first time.
However, what’s not always so apparent is the ongoing hard work needed from families following that important day, to ensure technology continues working well across the child’s life.
This includes a six-monthly cochlear implant programming process known as “MAPping”, where an audiologist checks and adjusts the electrode inputs within the implant to ensure the user is getting the most out of their devices.
For families living in regional, rural and remote Queensland, these appointments have previously meant a trip at least twice a year to their closest Hear and Say centre – often hundreds of kilometres from home.
However, thanks to specialist audiology equipment enabling the remote programming of cochlear implants – funded generously in 2020 by RACQ Foundation – families now have the option of this programming from the comfort of their kitchen table. The equipment has also been of huge benefit during the pandemic, where centre closures during lockdowns meant some creative thinking to minimise disruptions to services.
This has been the experience of Yeppoon mum, Catherine whose two-year-old daughter, Charlotte received a cochlear implant.
In keeping with typical post-surgery procedure, Charlotte’s implants were initially MAPped by an audiologist weekly over several months, with electrodes turned on incrementally. It’s an impressive feat of modern technology, but its success didn’t come without plenty of logistical considerations for the family.
“We love living in regional Queensland, however one of the drawbacks, particularly during these uncertain times of COVID-19, can be the access to health services,” said Catherine.
“Two weeks after Charlotte’s cochlear implant switch-on, when we were travelling the 1,300-kilometre round trip to the Hear and Say for weekly MAPping sessions, Brisbane entered another lockdown.
“Initially we were extremely concerned about how the inability to attend Hear and Say in-person would affect Charlotte’s MAPping progress, however our audiologist quickly put our minds at ease when we were offered remote MAPping services. The next day we received a laptop and the other necessary equipment, and had our very first remote MAPping session over Zoom.”
Catherine said she was impressed by the ease and quality of the MAPping sessions, despite the unfamiliarity of the online setting.
“Charlotte’s remote mapping sessions were the same high standard we were used to when attending them in-person, and continued Charlotte’s MAPping momentum to allow her cochlear implant to be optimised quickly and provide her vital access to sounds,” said Catherine.
“As a family, we were so appreciative of being offered this service, as it gave us peace of mind and also saved us travelling a long distance and taking time off work.”