Teen, 15, hears again with new cochlear implant

8th-grader gets first cochlear implant at Children's Hospital

SAN ANTONIO – Jesse Zavala is in middle school but has big plans to bring his drumming skills to a higher level at Harlandale High School with the help of his new cochlear implant.

It was activated at the The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio, the first one at the new pediatric audiology program there.

No one knows why Jesse began losing his hearing around age 6, but he became a candidate when it became clear that he would continue to lose his ability over time.

"Listening involves the brain learning what is said. So for him, he has to relearn how to hear and relearn that those sounds with the cochlear implant have meaning," said Ashley Garcia, the head of Pediatric Audiology at The Children's Hospital.

His aunt, Cynthia Zavala, has watched him lose his hearing function and cried when the implant was activated and it was clear that it was working.

"It was emotional. It was something that I wish my mother was here to experience. She raised him for years. I just want him to have all the advantages as opposed to my other children. It's exciting," she said.

In addition to Dr. Taylor Fordham, who implanted the device, Jesse’s sign language teacher and school nurses came to witness the moment he would hear again.

As part of the excitement of the implant activation, the Pediatric Program also arranged for a musical gift from Alamo Music. Jesse got a professional pair of drumsticks that he immediately tested out on the desk at the hospital.

He said the sounds of people talking right now is a bit mechanical sounding, but he is sure that in time it will improve. He said the implant will help him in the future.

“I can hear the music better, and play better and understand what the teachers say," he said.

The program at The Children’s Hospital of San Antonio was established last May and is the only pediatric hospital-based cochlear implant program.