When Akshata and Shraddha, daughters of North Karnataka farmers, battled deafness to find laughter

27th May 2016
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Devastation and despair – the two words that summarise the emotions Akshata and Shraddha’s parents went through when their daughters were diagnosed with hearing loss.

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Shraddha’s parents, being deaf and mute themselves, were naturally overwhelmed with a whirlwind of feelings. However, none of it brought any relief when they realised that they had to manage two more deaf members in the family, Akshata being a close family friend’s daughter who responsibility too was on them. They belonged to a humble farming community in rural Karnataka, but chose not to lose hope.

They found help at the Ear Science Centre, Hubli, where both the girls were diagnosed. The Centre had just started to serve the people of north Karnataka. Following the diagnosis, Dr Vikrant Patil, Chief Audiologist at the clinic, described the situation saying –

When the parents were informed about the diagnosis, at first they were weighed down. When they slowly came to terms with it, they were informed about their treatment options ‑ hearing aids and cochlear implants. As they heard me narrate that their children had a chance to lead a normal life and would be able to hear and speak again, the parents cheered up and were hopeful. They were informed about cochlear implants being the best line of treatment. However, when they were made aware about the financial aspects, they were taken aback. They were infuriated at their helplessness and one of the parents cried out saying that such mishaps always struck the poor. It was at that moment, I decided to go beyond my line of duty and help out the family.

Thus began a miraculous journey of these two girls. Their parents were assured that the funds would be organised to help the children gain back their ability to hear. Until then the girls were fitted with hearing aids and introduced to auditory habilitation.


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Soon it was realised that the therapy was a difficult and challenging procedure, while the pace of progress was negligible and disheartening. Whenever the parents visited their hometown, they were advised by the locals to avoid the operation as such treatment options were unheard off.

Akshata and Shraddha with their family
Akshata and Shraddha with their family

At this juncture, the doctors and audiologists handling the case constantly motivated, counseled, and emotionally supported the family through the journey. Their parents were finding it very difficult to raise the funds for the cochlear implant surgery, which was priced at Rs 8 lakhs for each child. Even after subsidising their professional fees, Ear Science Centre was not able to find enough funds.

It was at this point that the Director of the clinic decided to write to various entrepreneurs in India to seek help for the girls.

Devastation and despair turned around to hope and joy when Ratan Tata responded to the clinic’s request for financial assistance. Ratan Tata along with the Tata Trusts were extremely empathetic of the situation. They donated Rs 6.5 lakhs per child to meet the medical expenses. The team at Ear Science Centre contacted Cochlear, a Sydney based global biotechnology company that designs, manufactures and supplies the Nucleus cochlear implant, a Hybrid electro-acoustic implant that cures hearing impairment permanently. They also called Dr Shankar Medikeri and sought their expertise and help.

Things went as planned and the children were successfully implanted in December 2015. Shraddha’s father, Basalingappa Dupad, shared his joy with us –

Though we initially struggled to arrange funds, Dr Vikrant kept us motivated all along. We were overwhelmed when he told us the Tata Trust will provide Rs 6.5 lakhs for the Cochlear Implant surgery. We have high aspirations for Shraddha. We are sure she will go to a mainstream school soon.
Akshata and Shraddha with Dr. Vikrant Patil (centre)
Akshata and Shraddha with Dr. Vikrant Patil (centre)

It has been a few months since the children were implanted and the progress they have shown in speech and language development has been remarkable. The parents highlighted how their children had learnt so much more in the last few months than they had, with the hearing aids, over the last year. Both the girls have now begun to interact verbally and no longer use sign gestures. The parents of the children have visited their respective towns and have become role models and mentors for other parents of children with hearing loss.

Shraddha is now four years old and Akshata is three years old. Akshata’s uncle and their care taker, Veeresh Shahapur, who has supported the whole process from the very beginning, is proud of the way the family has stood through tough times. He is grateful for the way things have turned out –

If we could have arranged the required money earlier, we would have implanted Akshata before she was two years old. We can see a drastic change in her hearing ability, all thanks to the Cochlear Nucleus Implant. We will strive for Akshata to become an ENT specialist and help deserving children.

We at SocialStory are running a month-long campaign on deafness, with an objective to push the government to bring in policy for compulsory screening for deafness at childbirth in India. Please sign this petition and help spread the word.


 

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