A 18-month-old deaf girl became a pioneer after medics had to find a way around the lockdown to help her hear for the first time.
Hearing experts fitted Margarida Cibrao-Roque with a cochlear implant before the coronavirus forced them to close their clinic, but a lengthy process was needed before it could be switched on.
Cochlear implants are devices placed inside the inner ear during surgery, after which patients like Margarida need time to heal.
The implant then needs to be activated gradually with careful testing and adjustments.
Audiologists at the University of Southampton set up an internet link so the toddler’s device could be switched on remotely at home in Camberley, Surrey – a first in the UK.
Professor Hellen Cullington said: ‘Usually we do the switch-on of a cochlear implant at our clinic at the university but, with some technical creativity and some advice from colleagues in Australia, we were able to do everything necessary over the internet.
‘At switch-on, a child begins wearing their processors for the first time, and they are able to hear what is around them.
‘However, it takes a long time to get used to this and – especially in babies and children who have never heard before – the brain has to learn to understand these sounds.’
A university spokesperson said: ‘With some ingenious thinking, the team worked out a way to conduct their tests over the internet – connecting two computers, utilising specialist software and hardware and monitoring progress via video link.’
Margarida was born with Usher syndrome, one of several conditions which can cause hearing loss due to abnormalities of the inner ear. It also meant she had a cleft palate, which can affect hearing.
Mum Joana Cibrao said: The Southampton team, they were amazing. I cannot praise them enough really, the effort of the team – they were just brilliant and they made it happen.
‘The possibility of Margarida calling me Mummy one day would mean the world.
‘We will be able to speak with our daughter, to play with her, she will be able to watch TV, things that you take for granted she doesn’t have, so you know, this is a victory really.’
Her dad, Paulo Roque, added: ‘We are trying to give the best that we can for her and so we’ve opened a big window for Margarida now.
‘All we need to do is take time, step by step and we will get there, definitely.’