Meet Declan Ruppel. He's just like any other 2-year-old-- energetic with a whole lot of curiosity.
But, Declan isn't like most toddlers. While many were starting to talk he was falling behind. That's because Declan was progressively losing his hearing.
"It was hard seeing him not develop and one of our hard issues was seeing other kids talking and say I love you dad, I love you mom stuff like that; so it was really hard when we knew it was off," Declan's mother Amber Ruppel said.
Shortly after he was born, doctors found Declan was moderately to severely deaf in both ears.
At four months old, he started wearing hearing aids and was finally able to hear his mother say "I love you."
"I was so happy that my son was finally hearing and I could talk to him and he turned and saw it was mom talking to him," Amber said.
However, it would only be a temporary fix, as Declan's hearing continued to decline.
"His speech wasn't developing. He was behind and he would try to say words, but when he does talk it's not the word it should be," Amber said.
So, Amber turned to Doctor Greg DeSautel, an ear, nose, throat and sinus physician at Dakota Clinic in Sioux Falls.
"He can hear a train. He can hear some sounds. The biggest issue with Declan is he can't really get good word discrimination," Dr. DeSautel said.
DeSautel explained the Cochlear Implant-- a procedure he's been doing for more than a decade. It's a surgery in which they drill through the skull into a little window and place 22 electrodes into the inner ear. The operation is expected to make Declan hear more and clearly.
DeSautel said the Cochlear Implant has a 90 percent success rate, but if it doesn't work Declan could lose what little residual hearing he has left.
"Let's say they can't talk on the phone but they can hear a train, with the cochlear implant if it isn't on they won't be able to hear a thing anymore," DeSautel said.
"It's a huge decision you have to make," Amber said. "It's not risky, but it's scary. After talking with Dr. DeSautel I realized the surgery wasn't as scary as I thought."
Early morning on July 2nd-- Declan's 2nd birthday-- this brave toddler went into his fifth surgery.
"Seeing him back there, it's hard, but we know the outcome and in the end it's going to be the best thing to happen to him," Amber said.
The Cochlear Implant is 2 hours of surgery and then outpatient recovery. Declan spent the rest of the day recovering in the hospital and was sent home for three weeks. While small doses of aspirin could help with Declan's pain, there was no prescription for his mother's anxiety.
"The longest wait is going to be from surgery until we get to activate it and seeing his expression on how he reacts to hearing again," Amber said.
Finally, the wait is over. Later in July, Declan and his family returned with hopes that this medical marvel would pay off.
And with Amber's curiosity surpassing her son's, the specialists at Audiology Specialty Clinic turned on the implant. Kristen Kaufman turned on the Cochlear Implant and said Declan's name with a soft, high-pitched voice. No answer.
She then lightly clapped her hands and said, "Bop, bop."
As Declan opened the behind flap of a Mr. Potato Head, he suddenly stopped. His jaw dropped and his eyes became wide open. He looked up at Kaufman who was continuing to make light noises.
Declan could hear the sounds around him.
Science and technology would prevail again. This time, subduing a mother's worries.
"He actually hears what I would hear like or what you would hear like," Amber said. "When we look back, it will be a great deal to tell him about the story of how he got the implant. It's the best birthday present he can get."
Dr. DeSautel only implanted the Cochlear Implant into Declan's right ear. If the hearing in his left ear gets worse, they could implant a second one in that ear. The implant will gradually be turned up as Declan gets older.
This week we spoke with Delcan's mom, Amber, who says he is already talking and has made great improvements.
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