KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Since opening its doors in 1980, the Midwest Ear Institute has been dedicated to helping people who are hearing-impaired communicate verbally through technology and research.
Tymeka and Darius Williams first learned about MEI after their first son, Dariyon was born in 2008. He was born bilaterally deaf, meaning he couldn't hear out of either ear.
"I cried," Tymeka said.
Children's Mercy Hospital referred the couple to MEI. The first step doctors took with Dariyon was hearing aids. But that wasn't enough to help him hear. So when he turned 2 years old, Dr. Robert Cullen performed surgery and Dariyon received cochlear implants.
"Cochlear implants can provide hearing to children as young as 12 months of age, or even younger in certain cases," Dr. Cullen said.
The Williams have another son, Deviyon, who was born in 2009 with the ability to hear.
"He was almost a year when we found he was bilaterally deaf as well," said Darius.
From their prior experience, the Williams knew they had to get Deviyon into the MEI immediately. He received his cochlear implants in 2012.
Dariyon attended the St. Joseph Institute for the Deaf for the first couple of years with his cochlear implant. He received intense therapy to help his brain interpret sound.
"Their brains have never heard sound before, the brain doesn't know what to do with that information," said Dr. Cullen. "So cochlear implants help provide that sound information for them. However, they must train their brain to understand it as noise and sound."
But SJID closed its Lenexa campus in the summer of 2012, cutting off access to therapy that helped Dariyon progress with his language skills.
MEI absorbed many of the patients, adding a therapist to its staff who now works closely with families like the Williams.
"If we focus a lot of attention on those early years, get the brain ready to accept that sound, that new information," Dr. Cullen said. "Once that's performed, the children will keep it throughout the rest of their life."
The Williams play a big role in their children's development, working on their speech and hearing at home.
"We'll sound everything out, we'll verbalize information, make sure they understand pronunciations," Darius said. "We just really focus on things in their environment, what's around them, help them understand and verbalize it to us."
Dariyon is currently in preschool in the Shawnee Mission School District. The goal is to get both boys integrated into traditional classrooms as early as possible.
"Our goal is for them to hear and listen, to speak, and be main stream in school by the time they reach kindergarten," said Dr. Cullen. "So they are performing at the same levels, or close, as their normal-hearing peers."
Dr. Cullen said MEI's non-profit status means doctors and therapists can really focus in on patient care.
"As a non-profit institute, we are more concerned with making sure patients get everything they need as opposed to say meeting a bottom line," he said. "We can spend more time with patients, more time understanding their goals, what they'd like to achieve with their hearing loss, more time making sure their hearing aids or cochlear implants are fit to them."
As a non-profit, MEI funding comes from two main sources. One is insurance billing.
"We provide medical services to patients so some of our funding comes from medical services we provide, billing of insurance in the typical fashion," Dr. Cullen said.
The other part of funding comes from the community. MEI holds several fundraisers a year in an effort to meet the demands of the hearing-impaired community.
The money goes to ensure children, like Dariyon and Deviyon, have a chance at a successful future.
"I just don't want anybody to look at them and say, ‘Well, they're disabled, they can't do this, they can't do that,'" Darius said. "They're fully functioning kids. The only difference is, our hearing is internal and theirs is external."
In 2012, nearly 100 patients received cochlear implants from MEI. With more help from the community, Dr. Cullen hopes to be able to help more people this year.
Upcoming fundraisers include:
First Annual Martini Event on Thursday, April 18 at The Guild
26th Annual Sounds in Kansas City Golf Classic on Mon., May 6, at The Deuce at The National
11th Annual HearAid Gala on Fri., Nov. 1 at the Sheraton Crown Center
To learn more about MEI or to make a donation, visit www.saintlukesgiving.org .