According to Dr Jacobus Terblanche, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon practising at Netcare Kuils River Hospital, a cochlear implant is a small electronic device, which helps deaf or severely hard of hearing people recognise sound by working around the damaged part of the inner ear so that sound signals can reach the brain.
Zelmari’s mother, Elsje Maree says that although the family did not know it at the time, Zelmari – who was perfectly healthy in every other way – was born without the ability to hear.
“Within her first few weeks of life I started noticing that she seemed unaware of noise and I began to suspect there was a problem with her hearing. After taking her for screening at six weeks of age she was diagnosed with total hearing loss.
“This was heartbreaking news for our family – I really never thought anything like that could happen to us and while it was recommended that Zelmari would be a good candidate for a cochlear implant, it was financially out of our reach,” she says.
However, the family’s fortunes changed when Dr Louis Hofmeyr, an ENT surgeon, otologist and neurotologist, took a special interest in Zelmari’s case. Dr Hofmeyr practises at the Netcare Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital and specialises in cochlear implants and implantable hearing devices. He and Dr Terblanche form part of the team at Cape Hearing Implants, a non-profit organisation that raises charitable funds to support patients in need of implantable hearing solutions.
After discussing the options with the Maree family it was agreed that a cochlear implant was the best option for baby Zelmari and, at the age of nine months, Dr Terblanche did the implantation at Netcare Kuils River Hospital, which assisted with certain hospital costs.
“Thanks to the efforts of this selfless team and the incredible outpouring of support from the community we were afforded the opportunity to have this lifechanging procedure for Zelmari. Since then she has developed astonishingly well. She can say ‘mama’, she almost says ‘ouma’ and she makes it very clear when she doesn’t want something with a firm ‘nee’,” says Mrs Maree.