ELGIN — A 7-month-old Elgin boy recently received a gift many take for granted: the ability to hear.
Caison Luke Sperling, the son of Jesse and Tanda Sperling, was born New Year’s Eve at Southwestern Medical Center in Lawton. His mother remembers going into labor with Caison — the couple’s fourth child — during the snowstorm that rounded out 2020.
Caison was born a bouncing baby boy with no apparent health problems. But when he failed two hearing tests, his parents and the hospital staff became concerned.
Those concerns were validated when the family’s primary care physician consulted pediatric otolaryngologist Dr. Elana Woodson. Woodson practices at multiple hospitals in Oklahoma City, including Hearts For Hearing, a small hospital that specializes in hearing loss.
“I had to mentally prepare myself for the journey we were going through,” said Caison’s mother. “From the start, I believed that nothing was wrong, that the initial test wasn’t right. Once we got the results of the ABR (auditory brainstem response) test I realized and accepted everything.”
Caison’s ABR revealed that he had been born with profound hearing loss in his right ear and only residual hearing in his left. On a scale of hearing loss severity, there are four stages: mild, moderate, severe and profound.
“In Caison’s case, the audiologist stated that he couldn’t even hear a jet engine,” his mother added. “I wondered if he was going to be able to speak or even hear my voice.”
Most babies start to hear sounds while in the womb, she said. Since Caison was unable to hear anything, it could delay his hearing and speech development by about a year.
A battery of tests was performed on Caison. MRIs and CT scans showed both his cochlear bones and auditory nerves were intact, which meant he was a prime candidate for cochlear implants and the surgery was scheduled.
During the three-hour procedure at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Oklahoma City, Caison’s parents and support team prayed for a miracle.
When the surgery was a complete success, at six months and one day old, Caison became one of the youngest Oklahomans to receive a cochlear implant, his mother said.
But Caison couldn’t hear all the excitement just yet.
Healing and adjusting to the implanted device were just the first of many steps in his journey. Three weeks after the operation his cochlear implant was activated.
“Bringing him home the first day after the cochlear implant, Caison had his earpiece on,” said the boy’s mother. When his father “started the lawnmower, he heard it for the first time, jumped and looked around to see where the sound was coming from.”
Caison has only had his right cochlear hearing device implanted. “He can hear a little in his left ear, but it’s muffled at best,” said his mother.
With time and therapy, “He will hear just like his hearing peers and will develop speech and language as normal,” his mother said joyfully. “Each day he wears his implant he gets stronger and stronger.”
The Sperlings make multiple trips to Oklahoma City each week to continue working with Caison’s specialists. In addition to regular speech, the family is learning American Sign Language to help communicate with Caison. His mother has already picked up about 3,000 words, she said.
Each year Caison will undergo exams to ensure his hearing is at its best. That way he will continue to hear even the smaller things like the sound of his mother’s nails clicking on the table, the voices of his dad and siblings, birds chirping, the family’s rooster crowing, as well as his favorite educational programs.
“He loves Cocomelon. I just turn it on at a reasonable volume and he enjoys the music and colors. He’s just amazed by it,” his mother said of the animated program streamed via Amazon Prime, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube.
Each morning his mom devotes at least an hour to helping Caison isolate and identify what sounds are around him.
“We just focus on different things every day,” she said. “Today we went outside and saw our rooster and heard it crow. He was amazed. Our ultimate goal is to put sounds and objects together to help him identify what he hears.”
Caison’s siblings are also helping him identify sounds. His sister, Caylee, 9, makes funny faces and noises to her brother’s delight. His brother, Connor, 6, and sister Charlotte, 4 — affectionately dubbed “Chewy” — also bring huge smiles to Caison’s face, which makes his mom’s “mommy heart” happy.
While his family and friends know Caison has a long road ahead, his mother credits the family’s faith in God, Hearts for Hearing, Dr. Woodson and the advances in technology that will help Caison along the way.
Through social media platforms such as Facebook, the family has met with like-minded families around the area and across the country in similar circumstances. The Sperlings are raising awareness of hearing loss and prevention, especially in infants and children.
“Many families don’t know if their child is suffering from hearing loss until they are much older,” Tanda Sperling said. “The quicker it’s detected, the better the results. There are many options and resources available.”
Data provided by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders states that “two or three out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss [and] more than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents.”
For more resources about hearing loss, visit www.nidcd.nih.gov.