With Pusan community's help, Korean boy begins journey out of deafness
January 28, 2005
PYONGTAEK, South Korea — A 5-year-old Korean boy who recently underwent surgery to correct deafness eventually will be able to hear, his doctor said Wednesday.
But the boy, Jang Bong-sok, will require several years of intensive therapy and training to develop proper listening and speaking skills, said his surgeon, Kim Lee-suk.
Kim is chairman and professor in the Department of Otolaryngology at Dong Hwa University Medical College in Pusan, South Korea. The term otolaryngology refers to ear, nose and throat matters, he said.
Kim said Bong-sok likely was deaf at birth. The boy has lived since age 3 in Isaac’s House, a home for abused and abandoned children in Pusan.
Members of the U.S. military community in Pusan helped raise funds to pay for the surgery, which Kim performed Jan. 17 at Dong Hwa University Hospital in Pusan.
During the 3½-hour operation, Kim inserted a cochlear implant in Bong-sok’s right ear.
The implant is an electronic device that picks up sounds with a directional microphone and converts them to signals that bypass the damaged cochlea, an inner ear organ, sending them directly to the auditory nerve, Kim said.
The boy was to be discharged from the hospital Wednesday. “He cannot hear now,” the surgeon said, but in three weeks, Bong-sok is to visit the outpatient clinic, when hospital staff will test his hearing and fit him with a hearing aid. At that point, his doctor said, Bong-sok should be able to hear sounds.
“And then, he should receive the auditory training and rehabilitation from the speech therapist” or from a school for the hearing-impaired, Kim said.
For maximum potential development, the doctor said, Bong-sok should receive such therapy and training “for three or five years” — but before then, he’ll gradually hear and understand words and language “a little, step-by- step.”
Kim hopes to perform a cochlear implant in Bong-sok’s left ear “roughly six months or one year” from now, he said.
Meanwhile, Bong-sok will be able to hear sound from his left ear if he wears a hearing aid, Kim said. “Not the language words, clearly, and also he will not discriminate the precise sound or the words, but he can hear the sound, roughly.”
Initial therapy will involve, in part, training Bong-sok to pick up sounds without “visual cues,” said Ho Min-jong, a speech and language pathologist at the medical college.
“We use the auditory stimulus only,” she said. “We usually sit in back of the children, or the side ... not in front.” The children first learn not precise articulation or vocabulary but “listening skill, and then language.”
If Bong-sok detects a sound, she said, he can raise his hand or answer “yes.” “It’s ‘detection.’ It’s the first step of training,” she said.
But also crucial for his development will be “a rich language environment. That is very, very important,” Ho said.
Bong-sok will have to develop listening skills and language in everyday situations such as at home or on the playground, Ho said. “The boy must hear the same, repeated and familiar sentences and phrases in everyday situations.”
Isaac’s House took in Bong-sok in 2002 after his father, a day laborer, said he could not afford to care for him, said Anthony Gray, Catholic coordinator for Camp Hialeah in Pusan.
Isaac’s House launched a fund-raising effort about two years ago to raise $30,000 so Bong-sok could have cochlear implants in both ears.
Last fall, the U.S. military community in Pusan learned of the Bong-sok’s need and began a fund drive of its own, which eventually contributed about $5,500 to the Isaac’s House effort, Gray said.
Gray said Hialeah’s Catholic community would continue its efforts to help Isaac’s House raise the $15,000 still needed to pay for a left ear implant for Bong-sok.
Those wanting to contribute, Gray said, can phone Gray at 011-9671-1569 or e-mail him at email@example.com.