SASKATOON – As a baby, Keelin Rooke’s parents knew she was special. At a young age she was flagged by doctors for having a lot of ear infections and failing hearing tests in her right ear.
Doctors thought it was from a build up of fluid, so twelve tubes were put in her right ear.
It wasn’t until Keelin was three-and-a-half that she took a turn for the worse. After a CT scan doctors found a cholesteatoma, an aggressive benign tumour in her right ear.
It took three major surgeries and countless ear debridements over ten years to stop the growth.
“The surgery was six hours long, the first one. Lot’s of things go through your mind while they’re in there,” said Michelle Rooke, Keelin’s mother.
Because there is no facility in Saskatchewan that could deal with Keelin’s case, her family was forced to travel between Saskatoon and Edmonton for a decade.
“We travelled back and forth for ten years, every four months for her ear. It’s challenging, it’s always during the week so my husband always had to miss work and if I was on shift I had to juggle,” said Rooke.
Once the doctors were sure her tumour was gone, the process of giving Keelin back her hearing began.
Enter the BAHA, a Bone Anchored Hearing Aid implant.
“It’s a device on the outside that takes sound, captures that, vibrates and sends sound through the abutment to let the bone vibrate. Once the bone vibrates, because it is such a good conductor of sound the cochlea instantly gets the message,” said Dr. Nael Shoman, Kellin’s doctor.
An abutment is a part of the implant that connects the sound processor on the outside of the head to the bone inside. A cochlea is a part of the inner ear that translates sound vibrations into nerve signals for the brain.
“I was actually really nervous at first. I was really scared that it goes into my skull. Eventually as I got older and kept talking about it more I learn that it would be best if I got it,” said Keelin.
However, there is a trial and waiting process. Keelin checked the mail everyday waiting to see if she would get an acceptance letter.
“It was a great moment. She had been getting the mail everyday for six months and everyday she was disappointed. That day she saw it, and she was like “it’s here!”. She did a big dance and tore the envelope right opened,” said Rooke.
The BAHA was soon implanted behind Keelin’s right ear, allowing her to hear perfectly for the first time.
“I thought it was so cool because I’d never heard of it before. It was just so loud because we were walking downtown. I could hear buses passing and people talking behind me. I could hear all sorts of doors opening and dogs barking and it was amazing how much I could hear,” said Keelin.
Keelin is one of the first in the province to get the new processor, discretely controlled by an app on her phone.
“It did boost my self esteem because it makes me feel really cool being the first person to get the newest BAHA. It’s cool to just get a new gadget when no one else can. You feel special, not everyone in the world has it. You feel like one in a million somehow,” said Keelin.
Keelin can adjust settings for wind, volume, concerts, and unlike most teenagers she can stream music and answer her phone through Bluetooth technology built into her skull.
Music is cool, but what Keelin appreciates most are the little things, everyday noises we all take for granted and sometimes even find annoying.
“Birds, because I love to hear their beautiful chirps,” said Keelin.
Along with hearing birds, this technology will also allow her to excel in her newest adventure – high school.