PHSA’s BC Early Hearing Program (BCEHP) is a leader in infant hearing screening in Canada – the only provincial program that received a score of “excellent” on the Canadian Infant Hearing Task Force’s report card for 2014 and 2016. After speaking with two Vancouver Island families about their experiences with BCEHP for Speech and Hearing Awareness Month, it’s easy to see why the program ranks so highly.
“The BCEHP and the infant screening gave our family much needed information and support. We are very grateful.”
Sage Kuzminski’s daughter Lydia had her initial hearing screening at St. Paul's Hospital when she was one or two days old. “I don't really remember much of the screening other than having an uneasy feeling when the technician said that Lydia referred the test,” Sage says. The term “referred” means that she did not “pass” the screening. “There was mention of the possibility of fluid in her ears, and she was retested the following day.” Lydia referred the test a second time. Mom and Dad were told again that it was most likely fluid in her ears. Back home on Vancouver Island, a specially trained Audiologist performed an auditory brainstem response
(ABR) assessment and Lydia was identified with a hearing difference. It was confirmed that she was profoundly deaf.
Sage remembers BCEHP’s quick and consistent follow-up after Lydia’s diagnosis. “A lovely woman from BCEHP phoned us, and continued to phone every ten days or so to check in,” she recalls. “She didn't require anything of us and became this great support who knew much more of what was going on than we did. If we had questions, she'd answer them, and otherwise she would just let us know the next steps. I believe it was from her that we found out about the different agencies in BC that provide support to families like ours.”
Sage is thankful to live in BC where a program like BCEHP exists. “Although it was difficult, initially when we found out about Lydia's hearing difference, it was the best thing that could have happened for her,” Sage says.“ Because she was identified as being deaf at such a young age, she was able to start wearing hearing aids at three months, and our family was able to start learning sigh language. The BCEHP and the infant screening gave our family much needed information and support. We are very grateful.”
Lydia, now 13 months old, wears cochlear implants in addition to learning American Sign Language (ASL). “Our family is doing great!” Sage says. “Lydia knows upwards of twenty signs, with more every day. We are so proud to have a deaf daughter. Because of her our whole family is learning a new, incredible language.”
“Every interaction we have had with BCEHP has been memorable, positive and has helped us learn more about who our son is.”
Shazia Karmali’s son Iliyan did not pass his first two hearing screening tests in the hospital, after which the family was referred to an audiologist for further testing. “We almost didn't go for follow up testing since we assumed it was probably just an false positive, as we had not heard of a deaf or hard of hearing family member on either mine or my husband's side of the family,” Shazia says. “It wasn't really even on our radar. When Iliyan was six weeks old, we went in for our ABR with the audiologist and it was confirmed that he was born profoundly deaf.” An ABR is an auditory brainstem response test and differs from the AABR in that it’s performed by an audiologist. ABRs confirm hearing loss and are considered the gold standard for testing infant hearing.
Within hours of learning about Iliyan's deafness, Shazia received a call from their service coordinator, Lindsay, at BCEHP. “She told us that we would not be alone through this process, that there was a lot of support in BC for deaf children and that our son was going to be fine,” Shazia remembers. “She then asked us how we were doing, and stayed on the phone with us for what was probably hours. Until we received that call, we were in a tailspin and didn't even really know which way was up, or how we would navigate having a deaf child when we knew nothing about it. Her call made us feel like we could breathe again and trust that we wouldn't have to figure it all out on our own.” It’s also through BCEHP that Mom, Dad and Iliyan began to connect with various agencies, groups, deaf and hard of hearing individuals and parents of deaf and hard of hearing children.
Iliyan is now a year and a half and doing wonderfully. “He signed his first word at ten months – it was ‘light,’ not ‘mom’ or ‘dad,’” Shazia says with a laugh. “He’s been signing up a storm ever since, actively using close to 200 signs to communicate.” Iliyan also has cochlear implants, which were activated in February 2017, and is starting to speak a little in addition to signing. “Overall we are so grateful for BCEHP. Every interaction we have had has been memorable, positive and has helped us learn more about who our son is and how best to support him.”
BCEHP by the numbers
- 2007: The year BCEHP was started at BC Children’s Hospital.
- More than 390,000: Number of babies screened since the inception of the program.
- 97: Percentage of babies born in BC that have been screened by BCEHP (2015).