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July 18. 2013 9:05PM

Cochlear implants will let Auburn toddler hear her parents for the first time


Karlee Ray grabs a quick nap with her mother, Joelle, shortly after her surgery at Boston Children's Hospital to have her cochlear implants installed. (COURTESY)


Karlee Ray poses with her parents, Joelle and Ryan, at their Auburn home. Born profoundly deaf 10 months ago, Karlee underwent surgery to have cochlear implants installed earlier this month. She will hear the first sounds of her life when doctors turn them on in August. (BENJAMIN C. KLEIN/Union Leader Correspondent)

AUBURN -- Now that the surgery to install 10-month-old Karlee Ray's cochlear implants has been completed, her parents are eagerly awaiting the moment doctors will turn them on so their daughter can hear their voices for the first time in her life.

It didn't take long for doctors to determine that Karlee, otherwise healthy and happy, was profoundly deaf.

"It was a huge shock when we found out; we were definitely nervous, sad, and scared," said her mother, Joelle Ray, a restaurant manager.

"It was a total shock to be told that your perfect daughter in every way can't hear your voice," said her dad, Ryan Ray, a Manchester teacher and Manchester High School Central's football coach.

Karlee was born with a genetic condition called Connexin 26, which can result in complete hearing loss that can't be helped with standard hearing aids. While Karlee has grown up over the last 10 months into a healthy, precocious and happy child, her parents still wanted to give her the gift of hearing.

"This way she can grow up and be able to speak normally, go to regular school, play sports," said Joelle. "And while she could do all that without the implants of course, this just gives her more opportunities. We would have been fine without the implants, but we just thought this would be a great opportunity for her."

So on July 11 at the Boston Children's Hospital, doctors made two small incisions behind Karlee's ears and installed cochlear implants, which will be activated in August.

"Doctors have told us that there is a 99 percent chance that she will be able to hear when they turn them on. It is so exciting. It would be fine if she couldn't have them, but to know she will hear our voices and the dogs barking, and hear all the wonderful things in life we take for granted — she will have the opportunity to hear," Joelle said.

"Yeah, she will be able to get into a screaming fight with her parents when she's a teenager," Ryan joked.

Her parents say they're sure that even without the implants, Karlee would still grow up a happy girl.

"She is awesome and has such a great personality, so happy all the time, just always happy," Joelle said. "She is always exploring, always adventuring, always getting into mischief."

"You look away for a second and she is halfway up the steps, or smashing the Playstation controller, or trying to eat dog food, or locking herself in the bathroom," Ryan laughed.

Because Karlee can't hear, her parents stomp on the floor to get her attention when she is getting into mischief.

"It's become normal to bang on the floor and get her attention that way," Ryan said. "If anything now, once she can hear, we will have to make adjustments by calling her name to encourage her to use her implants."

The family has been using baby sign language to make sure Karlee continues on a strong developmental path.

"She can already sign things like 'want more,' 'all done' and 'come here.' She signed 'more' for the first time at 8 months. It was so exciting, I cried, just to know that she is communicating with us," Joelle said.

The Rays acknowledge that Karlee will be a bit behind other hearing children as she gets acclimated to the world of sound.

"She will be able to speak normally, but probably not until she is 3," her mother said. "And doctors have explained to us that she will have no frame of reference for noises, so if she squeaks a ball and the dog barks, she will think the ball made the noise. If we don't work really hard with the specialists from Easter Seals and her doctors, she will be stunted."

But the Rays are ready and willing to put in that work.


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