3-year-old Iraqi girl arrives in the U.S. to receive cochlear implant

Amina is a 3-year-old Iraqi girl born with Profound Sensorineural Hearing Loss, which means total deafness.

After enduring a long and exhausting journey to make it out of her country and travel to the United States, the child arrived this week in Miami, where she will receive a cochlear implant at Holtz Children's Hospital, part of the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Medical Center. This procedure will change her life forever, as she will have the ability to hear for the first time.

Given that this surgery is not available in her native country and since Amina's family does not have the resources to pay for the treatment, the International Kids Fund (IKF) is working to raise the $40,000 needed to change her life. Amina is not a U.S. resident; therefore, the public hospital cannot use taxpayers' money to fund her operation. Instead, it is offering the treatment to IKF at charitable rates.

"Amina is currently living in a prison because is hard for her to communicate, even with her parents. Like any other child, she would like to play with other kids and make friends. One of the activities that she enjoys most is watching Tom and Jerry cartoons," said Maria-Luisa Chea, director of IKF. "Today, we all have the opportunity to change her future forever."

Shortly after Amina's birth, her parents noticed something was wrong with their child; she did not make the usual noises nor respond to their voices. When she was four months old, they took her to a doctor, who confirmed that the child was completely deaf. After months of analysis and medical examinations, they reached the final conclusion that this case was hopeless in Iraq.

The medical team led by Thomas Balkany, M.D., Professor and Chairman, Department of Otolaryngology, University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine/Jackson Memorial Medical Center, will perform the cochlear implant, named for the inner ear's medical term: cochlea. The surgery consists of placing inside the cochlea an electronic device with electrodes that collect impulses from a transmitter/receiver and send them to the brain. The apparatus is accompanied by a speech processor that selects and arranges sounds picked up by a microphone.

"Our expectations are that Amina will have a hearing capability of 80 percent, allowing her to hear her parent's voice for the first time shortly after the surgery. The implant will enable her to have phone conversations, attend normal school and be fully employed when she grows up," explained Dr. Balkany. The child will have extensive auditory verbal training in Arabic and three weeks after the procedure, the device will be switched on and she will hear the world for the first time.

Amina's father first knew about IKF through an Iraqi engineer that met the family by coincidence and was touched by the child's enormous efforts to try to communicate with her parents. The engineer sent emails describing Amina's story to everyone he knew, initiating a chain of contacts. An officer of the U.S. Army Special Forces in the region heard about it and spoke to Dr. Balkany, who brought the case to Chea.

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