JUST as Warrandytians gear up for another festive season, the McMullen family has something extra to cheer about this Christmas.
For this one will be the 10th Christmas that 12-year-old Isaac McMullen can hear the sound of tearing wrapping paper, can sing along to Christmas carols and listen to his family chatter over the dinner table.
Isaac is profoundly deaf and without his hearing aid and cochlear implant can only hear sounds as loud as a chainsaw or an aeroplane taking off.
“Isaac was first diagnosed on Christmas Eve 2002, so it went from being the worst Christmas ever, completely ruined, to just the happiest time when he was implanted, started speaking and could hear Christmas songs two years later,” his mother Mel told the Diary.
Mel first suspected Isaac was deaf after he slept peacefully through the loud noise of an industrial vacuum cleaner as a baby.
A worker at an early childhood centre told her she was just being paranoid, but after months of closely monitoring her son’s reactions as she intentionally dropped pots and pans around the house, she took Isaac in for an audiogram.
The McMullens at home
“After he was diagnosed, they told me Isaac could do oral deaf education, which would allow him to still develop his speech and language, or signing. However, if we wanted him to do oral our time was running out because he’d have to know all sounds before he turned two years
old,” Mel said.
His parents, determined for Isaac to have the same opportunities as every other child, had to fight long and hard to secure funding for his expensive implant, which costs thousands of dollars.
“We went through MRI and CAT scans to make sure he was the right candidate for it and they said no to start with. We had to appeal the decision.”
Mel successfully appealed the decision with the help of Professor Graeme Clark, the man responsible for the pioneering research and development of the bionic ear.
His work has brought hearing to more than 200,000 people across the world.
Mel’s great aunt, Gwen, who coincidentally had taught deaf children her entire life, also encouraged her to not give up.
Gwen lived in Warrandyte and was passionate about educating deaf children and she made Mel promise that she would keep fighting for Isaac’s implant.
“After seeing Isaac’s audiogram she burst into tears and she told me ‘get him implanted, you get this child to speak, do it for me’,” Mel said.
“She was 97 when she passed away, about eight months after Isaac was implanted. She glowed when we took him over and she got to hear him speak. She died a happy woman.”
Isaac now hears normally with his implant and hearing aid, which even has a waterproof cover, allowing him to go swimming with his three brothers.
His family says moving to Warrandyte has been one of the best things for Isaac because he gets to listen to the sounds of cockatoos, king parrots and rainbow lorikeets around their house every day.
Isaac is also doing extremely well in school at Ringwood North Primary, where his favourite subject is art.
A keen listener of music, he also plays the violin and the piano.
While it’s difficult for people with implants to perfectly mimic music, Isaac’s hearing has developed so well that he’s now starting to correct the sound as he plays sharps and flats on the violin.
“I’m really grateful for the implant because life without it would be sad, like black and white, no colour,” Isaac told the Diary.
As the first baby to receive a cochlear implant at the Melbourne Royal Children’s Hospital, Isaac has been credited with helping change some of the perceptions surrounding hearing impairment and deafness.
Earlier this year he travelled to Canberra where he gave a speech in front of the nation’s politicians about how his cochlear implant had transformed his life.
And after the New Year, Isaac will begin high school at Donvale Christian College.
“He will be one of the first profoundly deaf kids to go to a mainstream primary and secondary school, as far as we’re aware,” Mel said.
“It’s a pretty big thing and we’re hoping the government will have a look at and see that the path we chose for Isaac works so they can then give other hearing impaired kids the same opportunities.”