By 8 weeks old, Yehuda Klein was diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD); sounds weren’t being transmitted from his inner ear to his brain.
When Yehuda Klein of Oak Park goes to a playground or library, strangers often take a second glance. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken) question is: What are those things on the side of his head?
Many people have never seen cochlear implants before. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), as of December 2019, there are only about 736,900 implanted cochlear devices worldwide. In the United States, about 118,100 cochlear devices had been implanted in adults and only 65,000 in children. (The FDA only approved it for eligible children in 2000.)
In the Metro Detroit area, Yehuda Klein is among the few children with cochlear implants.
Yehuda’s hearing loss is not genetic. At 8 days old, Yehuda, now 7, developed a sudden life-threatening intestinal infection, and extremely strong antibiotics were administered. Hearing loss is a known unfortunate side effect of that vital medication.
By 8 weeks old, Yehuda was diagnosed with Auditory Neuropathy Spectrum Disorder (ANSD); sounds weren’t being transmitted from his inner ear to his brain.
“His hearing was like listening to a broken radio with lots of static,” his mother, Keren Klein, said.
Yehuda was referred to a specialist at Children’s Hospital and was given a hearing aid trial at 4 months old.
By his first birthday, Yehuda was babbling and could speak 15-20 words, within the normal range.
Cautiously optimistic, Keren, a science teacher at Farber Hebrew Day School, and her husband, Yosef, a lawyer, took Yehuda for further testing. They were shocked to discover that Yehuda had only been lip-reading, was not understanding context and was quickly falling behind. At that point, cochlear implants were recommended.
Cochlear implants have two parts: The first part is surgically implanted into the temporal bone. The second part is the processor, essentially a strong microphone that is magnetically attached to the first part from the outside of the head. Together, the pieces accept, decode and send electric signals directly to the auditory nerve in the brain.
There was no guarantee cochlear implants would correct Yehuda’s hearing loss … and if the surgery didn’t work, it could leave him completely and permanently deaf.
“It was an extremely difficult decision,” Keren said. “It’s literally brain surgery. We did tons of research and then finally decided to go ahead with just one ear. That way, if it were unsuccessful, at least Yehuda would still have some hearing in the other ear.”
Yehuda received his first implant at age 2. Within days of his processor being activated, he was engaged, responding to music and participating in conversation.
“It was clearly a huge success; it was as though everything had finally just clicked for Yehuda,” Keren said.
At age 4, Yehuda received his second implant, which was equally as successful. Every six months for his entire life, he needs to get “mapping” — a process that is like fine-tuning a radio frequency. Also for the rest of his life, there’s another special date on the calendar — the Klein family celebrates Yehuda’s “implant-versary” like a birthday because, for him, it was a whole new beginning.
These days, Yehuda is enjoying a backyard day camp; he attends Yeshivas Darchei Torah in Southfield and will be starting first grade in the fall.
Keren admits she worried at first that a private school wouldn’t be able to accommodate Yehuda’s needs, but was pleasantly surprised.
“The staff rose to the occasion. We are blessed to have an amazing support team and, thankfully, Yehuda is thriving there with the support of a full-time shadow/para.”
Yehuda loves singing, running, jumping and roughhousing with his three brothers, Eliyahu, 11, Sender, 9, and his twin, Pinchas, 7. There is nothing he can’t do.
While playing like any other kid, he is not even aware yet that he’s an ambassador, paving the way for future children with cochlear implants in the community.
Yehuda is often the first implanted child people in Detroit have ever seen. And while Keren and Yosef, like any parents of a child with special needs, do not appreciate when people stare at their son, they are eager to normalize cochlear implants, answer any questions and share the amazingness of it all.
“It’s really very cool,” Keren said. “We have this one in a million kid, a little miracle.”