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HeadLines - Family Receives the Gift of Hearing

HeadLines Spring 2014

Family Receives the Gift of Hearing

Date: May 1, 2014

Four of Tracy and Josh Huegel’s five children have been treated at the Johns Hopkins Listening Center.
Four of Tracy and Josh Huegel’s five children have been treated at the Johns Hopkins Listening Center.

The Huegel family’s journey to Johns Hopkins began in 2004. Parents Tracy and Josh were concerned about their first born, Rebecca. She wasn’t responding to her name, was easily startled, and didn’t react to the noise of her mom vacuuming in her nursery.

By the time she turned 1, Rebecca had been diagnosed as profoundly deaf in both ears. This was the first time Tracy and Josh had ever heard about cochlear implants. After a lot of research by Josh, the Huegels saw a long track record of innovation and successful patient outcomes, and decided Hopkins was the best place for their daughter’s care. Johns Hopkins Listening Center Director Howard Francis performed Rebecca’s cochlear implantation on her right ear.

After recovering from surgery, patients come back to Hopkins to have their implant activated by an audiologist. As Rebecca sat in her mother’s arms, playing with a box of blocks, the implant was activated. Suddenly, Rebecca stopped playing. She looked up at her mother, touched the implant site, paused, and went back to playing. Rebecca could hear for the first time since she was a newborn.

After their second child, Jane, was born with no hearing difficulties, the Huegel’s have been regular visitors of the Listening Center, as each of their next three children failed their newborn hearing tests and required cochlear implants. Tracy and Josh both carry a recessive genetic mutation of the connexin 26 gene, and each of their children were born with a 25 percent chance of being deaf. However, for the Huegels, four of their five children were either born deaf or became deaf at an early age. Francis has performed cochlear implantation surgery on all four.

Today, after getting cochlear implants in both ears, Rebecca is like any other 3rd-grade girl who also happens to be an expert helper at getting her younger siblings to ‘put their ears on’ in the morning.

“I rely on Rebecca,” Tracy says. “If a sitter has questions, I say ask Rebecca. They look out for each other.”

As Tracy sits at her kitchen table with five young kids on a stormy summer morning, it is a scene from homes across the country. Kids are laughing and playing, arguing and tattling. Topics range from where the Jolly Ranchers came from to whether the dress-up shoes belong to Rebecca or Jane.

“They argue like every other family,” Tracy says with a smile, knowing that this fun, hectic household wouldn’t be the same without cochlear implants.

As she relives the experiences with each of her kids, Tracy reflects on how lucky she feels that she lives so close to Hopkins.

“They have outstanding doctors that work with you,” she says. “They have a very good connection with their families. Their bedside manner is out of this world. From the time that you go in there, they are very comforting.”

“We take our responsibility of the treatment of these children very seriously,” Francis says. “We recognize that sometimes we’re the only thing that stands between a child being linked into the hearing world and being completely isolated from the hearing world. This is a calling for the team.” 

For more information about cochlear implants, call 443-287-2124.

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