She is a little girl in a desperate race against time – for a bionic ear.
Little Evie Small, 19 months, is profoundly deaf – yet a pioneering new operation promises to give her the chance to hear for the first time in her life.
Only if she doesn’t have it fitted in the next five weeks, she could be condemned to a life of silence.
Now little Evie’s family face raising an extraordinary sum of £60,000 after an Italian hospital stepped forward to carry out the surgery.
Cuddling little Evie mum Emily, 37, says: “To think Evie might never call me mummy and she has never heard me tell her I love her is heartbreaking. I can’t bear the thought of Evie going through her life in silence.”
She adds: “Nine months is the best age to have this done but doctors say it must be carried by the age of two – otherwise the pathways in the brain develop in such a way that even with a bionic ear, Evie is unlikely to hear.”
Evie was just three weeks old when Emily and husband David, 42, who have four other children between them and both work as solicitors, were told she was profoundly deaf.
“I knew something was terribly wrong when I couldn’t soothe Evie with my voice,” recalls Emily.
Doctors reassured the couple Evie’s hearing would mature and for a year she wore a hearing aid, but when she was 16 months tests finally revealed Evie was born with no hearing nerves at all.
Says Emily: “The syndrome is incredibly rare and we were devastated. It meant the only option was a bionic ear.”
Although a handful of bionic ears have been carried out in the UK under the NHS, the family has been told funding could take months to come through – by which time Evie could be too old for the operation to work properly. Also, doctors in the UK have never operated on any child with such an unusual nerve problem.
Few surgeons in the world are qualified to carry out such delicate surgery. But after searching online the couple, from Hampshire, finally discovered an Italian doctor in Verona who has agreed to treat Evie.
“Evie will be the 80th child that the surgeon has operated on so we are confident it will be a success.”
The operation is now booked for 21st June and the couple face raising £60,000 for the operation and subsequent travel and clinic costs.
* A bionic ear – an Auditory Brainstem Implant – enables a tiny device to be placed into the part of the brain where hearing is processed. If implanted early enough it allows the deaf child to access enough sounds so they can understand speech.