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LIJ donor gives gift of hearing

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But she will soon receive the gift of hearing when her cochlear implant - an electronic device that stimulates the hearing nerve in the cochlea, enabling a deaf person to hear - is turned on next week after a generous philanthropist paid for the approximately $100,000 operation.When Adriana was born at Southside Hospital on Long Island, she did not pass her newborn screening test. She was diagnosed as being severely to profoundly deaf and was later fitted with a hearing aide.But her father, Dennis Figlia of West Islip, L.I., said Adriana stopped receiving the benefits from her hearing aid about a year ago and has plateaued in the development of her aural skills.Lynn Spivak, the director of speech and hearing at Long Island Jewish Hospital's Hearing and Speech Center - the facility that installed Adriana's cochlear implant - said the "happy, bright little girl" who came to the center in May was a good candidate for the device but her family did not have medical insurance.But Horace Hagedorn, the founder of Miracle Gro and a philanthropist who died at age 89 last January, set aside $1 million to be used for children who needed cochlear implants and could not afford to pay for the operation. His widow, Amy Hagedorn, said her husband was affected by hearing loss in his later years."I hope this is the first of many" beneficiaries of his donation, she said.The center began performing cochlear implant operations in 2001, with more than 64 of the devices installed, most within the last two years, according to Dr. Andrea Vambutas, the medical director of the center.North Shore-LIJ is the only hospital in the Queens and Nassau area that fits patients with cochlear implants, she said.Vambutas performed the 3 1/2-hour surgery on Adriana pro bono on Dec. 15 and said the implant will be turned on next week.She said that while a cochlear implant can cost $30,000, when pre-operation procedures and other costs are factored in, "you're looking at hospital bills that can get close to $100,000."But it is a cost that will be well worth it for Adriana.Since her hearing aid only operates on a single channel, Vambutas said, Adriana's hears as if her ears were either underwater or had two fingers stuck in them. But a cochlear implant operates on 22 active channels, which would improve Adriana's perceptions of sound. Dennis Figlia was very optimistic that Adriana would progress after the implant is switched on, noting that she has patience when she sees someone is speaking to her. Figlia said his daughter is able to differentiate sounds and voices and she has been attending classes for deaf children at the Nassau BOCES school since she was 6 months old. Her vocabulary is close to that of a 3-year-old.He said he expects her to start kindergarten with children who can hear and she will not be at a disadvantage."She has a great attitude in that she doesn't get frustrated. She'll catch up. She's very fast." Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 173

Updated 10:26 am, October 12, 2011
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