Sammie's video diary chronicles her struggle to hear

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by JASON WHITELY

Bio | Email | Follow: @jasonwhitely

WFAA

Posted on May 23, 2012 at 10:48 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 23 at 11:09 PM

DALLAS — It's a very expensive procedure, but among modern medical miracles, the cochlear implant has become another routine surgery.

Don't underestimate what the life-changing device means to 10-year-old Sammie Hicks.

"She doesn't let anything hold her back... anything! Which is great," said Jen Hicks, Sammie's mother.

The Collin County girl was born with a genetic mutation in her ears. She was fitted with hearing aids at 19 months, then learned to read lips after what was left of her hearing finally faded.

"I hope they learn that just because you're deaf, doesn't mean you can't go and do the things you want to do like most of the other deaf people," Sammie said.

That's one reason she started keeping a video diary.

When insurance agreed to buy her a cochlear implant — a "bionic ear" — Sammie wanted friends and family to understand her struggle to hear first-hand.

"I'm excited for it," she said in one video diary clip. "Still, nervous."

Surgery earlier this month was simple. But what happened next was heartbreaking.

Another video clip from her diary shows Sammie jump when the audiologist activates the implant.

Then the first thing she hears? Her own breathing.

"It sounds weird," she told the audiologist. "Hey! I sound weird."

It was an exciting, yet emotional, moment.

Seconds later, Sammie brings her hands up to cover her face as she tears up.

"I started to cry because it was overwhelming," Sammie said. "I had no idea what the sounds were."

"My heart just stopped," Jen Hicks remembered about the moment. "I can't really put into words what it felt like hearing those little things we never thought she'd be able to hear."

"I asked her why she cried," her father, Brian Hicks, said. "She said, 'It was overwhelming. But the reason I really cried? I couldn't believe all the stuff I was missing.'"

No one really knows what Sammie's life sounds like now.

"The teacher sounded like a robot — like every voice does," Sammie explained on one recent entry to her video diary.

Cochlear implants are not cheap.

The device alone costs about $27,000. Add surgery and therapy, and it will cost more than $120,000.

That's just to provide access to sound. Each patient will then progress differently with the devices.

"This is what she has," said her physician, Dr. Paul Bauer, as he held up the device.

It does what her ears cannot.

"Inside of your inner ear are millions of microscopic hairs that turn the nerves on and off, in very simple terms," Bauer said. "And what a cochlear implant is trying to do, is replace those hairs."

Sammie's cochlear implant is less than a month old.

Absorbing so many sounds now is exhausting for her, Brian explained.

But already Sammie has adapted, improved her speech, and still adds to that video diary — hoping it helps others appreciate what so many take for granted.

E-mail jwhitely@wfaa.com

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