One out of 20 people in the world are deaf. Deafness is a common problem in the old age, but it affects children as well. Almost one-tenth of all deaf in the world are children below the age of 15 years. One in 200 children are either born with a hearing disability or develop deafness during early childhood. According to a data released by the World Health Organization (WHO), 60 per cent of these cases can be prevented.
Prateek Prasanna was born deaf. His family, however, came to know about his silent inner world only seven months later. Being a premature baby, Prateek was kept in confinement for the first four months, and once he became a part of the larger family living together in Mangalore, Karnataka, he was treated normally. Prateek acted normally too; he was an active infant who reacted to the slightest gesture his family members made. Prateek’s father Prasanna recalls,
“Our lives changed during Diwali that year. We were all celebrating, but Prateek didn’t seem to respond to the loud sound of the crackers. Filled with doubt, we started dropping utensils behind him, but he didn’t bat an eyelid. We knew that moment that something was not right.”
Prateek was taken to a doctor, who, after a series of tests, confirmed that the child was suffering from hearing disability. He was given an analog hearing machine to wear, but his family could never confirm whether he was listening to their voice, or merely reading lips. He followed instructions but never spoke. They visited multiple doctors in Karnataka, but all in vain. Prasanna remembers,
“I shifted to Qatar with my wife and kid and started working there. Prateek suffered from slow growth. He was a good lip reader and healthy, but he hardly spoke. We were scared.”
When Prateek was four and a half years old, the family came back to India. They visited Dr Medikeri, at his clinic in Basavangudi, who advised Prateek to undergo Cochlear implants, which is a permanent cure for deafness. The process helps surgically treat hearing impairment and allows a person with hearing disabled lead a very normal life. “The implant comes at a cost between five and seven lakh. But given that a child’s growth and entire life is at stake, I believe this is the right advice for children, and even adults,” Dr Medikeri told us in an interview.
Coming out of his lonely, silent world was not easy. Overwhelmed with the sounds that now surrounded him, he used to cry very often. Prateek’s was taken to Dr S. R. Chandrasekhar Institute of Speech and Hearing for therapies, where he was slowly taught to identify sounds and derive meaning out of them. “It didn’t happen in a day, but things improved,” Prateek tells us. He was soon sent to Jain Heritage School. The rest, as they say, is history.
Prateek has lost a year of school education fighting his hearing disability, but the child’s passion has helped him come a long way. He loves reading and playing drums. He is good in studies, and has scored an A-plus in Science and English this year. He doesn’t like Math. A naughty and playful child, Prateek often sits with his back-bencher friends and has fun in school. No one makes fun of the small device that he needs to wear on his ears after going through the Cochlear implant process.
Prateek’s passion, however, is cricket. A fast bowler, Prateek is the star player of his school’s team. From Anantapur in Telangana to Sri Lanka, cricket has taken him to places. He has not lost a single opportunity to prove his mettle as an emerging player. His dreams of playing for the Indian Cricket Team when he grows up. Brett Lee is his favourite cricketer, and Prateek is extremely proud to have met Brett Lee and learn from the retired Australian star.
Brett, the Global Hearing Ambassador of Cochlear, has made it a point to raise awareness on hearing disability. In a cricket match organised for children who have received Cochlear Implants recently, Brett stood with his bat guarding the stumps while Prateek ran down the ground and bowled. Brett says,
“I could see the passion in his eyes. His bowling action is great. I suggested our Champ (Prateek) the little places where he can improve. I’m glad he is working hard for the sport.”
Cricket has taught Prateek how to live. He is not a shy guy anymore. He gets up every morning on his own and practices. He takes care of his life and his hearing device. The previous device used to fall off from his ears as he delivered the ball; and hence he has now moved to a Nucleus® 6 Sound Processor, which sticks better on his ears. When asked Prasanna what needs to be done to fight deafness in India, he says,
“Early detection is the key. In Australia, every newborn child is screened for deafness. Such screening is done in Kerala, but the rest of the country must follow similar practices. I will recommend every parent to go for implants, because dabbling with the disease wouldn’t take you anywhere. There are many who can’t afford a cure. This is where governments must intervene. The government should subsidise implants for those who can’t afford it.”