Johannesburg - In just a few weeks, little Egan Pillay from Durban, KwaZulu-Natal will hear for the first time.
At just 22 months old, and weighing little more than 8.5kg, Egan is one of the smallest children in SA to have received a cochlear implant.
Nicknamed "Little Fighter" by his parents, Egan has survived the odds after he suffered a life-threatening heart condition at birth.He had two major heart operations and also overcame a bout of jaundice. He was the first patient to receive a cochlear implant at the Netcare uMhlanga Hospital.
"He lived up to his nickname of the 'Little Fighter' from the time he entered the world. Our family fondly calls Egan the 'Little Fighter' because of everything he has had to deal with," said his father Kreason Pillay.
The little boy was born at the Netcare Parklands Hospital on October 2, 2015.
At birth, a nurse alerted the paediatrician to his laboured breathing sound, which sounded like grunting.
Paediatrician Dr Japie Roos transferred him to the neonatal intensive care unit where it was discovered that Egan had a heart condition. His weakened immune system resulted in jaundice soon after.
On November 2, 2015 Egan was transported to the Netcare Sunninghill Hospital where he was diagnosed with a coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta, which required highly intricate surgery.
Deaf in both ears
He underwent his first operation at the hospital on November 3, 2015 and on his discharge, went home for the very first time. Egan however, had ongoing problems with high blood pressure and required another operation, which was performed on February 19, 2016.
He responded well to the treatment and regained his energy.
"At home, however, we noticed that Egan did not respond when we called him or tried to stimulate him with sounds," Pillay said.
An audiologist found that he was deaf in both ears and a cochlear implant was suggested.
The family was referred to Hi-Hopes, a non-profit organisation for assistance in terms of managing Egan's condition. Egan was later found to be a good candidate for a cochlear implant.
"Our spirits were lifted by this news at what was otherwise a pretty traumatic time," he said.
He received one cochlear implant on August 5. An operation to implant the second one will be done as soon as the family can afford it.
Dr Yougan Saman, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon from Netcare uMhlanga Hospital, who was part of the team that implanted Egan's cochlear device, said the procedure was completed successfully. Saman said the device would be turned on in four to six weeks, once he has fully recovered from the surgery.
According to Saman it is best to implant a cochlear device in children before the age of 3, saying the child is able to develop their "hearing" with the aid of the device while they are still at a critical stage of their development.
Saman described Egan as an inspirational little boy with a wonderful temperament.
His procedure was unusual in that he was fitted with a Med-El cochlear device that is friendly for use with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning technology.
"With his heart condition, Egan may have to undergo MRI in the future. We therefore had to implant a device compatible with such technology, as it would not be an option to remove the implant every time Egan required a scan."
Egan was groggy following the implantation procedure.
"His eyes were also swollen - which he found very distressing. I had to hold him throughout the night to keep him calm."
In the morning after the operation, the swelling had subsided.
Pillay said Egan was ecstatic to see again and soon after they walked through the ward together.
"I remember he was particularly captivated by a fish mural that he spotted in the hospital and I knew he was rapidly recovering his strength.
"Our family is so very grateful to all of the doctors, healthcare professionals, nurses and everyone who has supported us as a family and who made it possible for him to be here with us."
Netcare uMhlanga Hospital general manager, Marc van Heerden, said that Egan's journey has been most remarkable.
"Our staff members have been inspired by the bravery shown by this young hero and his family, who have gone to great lengths to find him the help he needed," Van Heerden said.