"The potential for her hearing with the cochlear implants is limitless." –Kaleb Unger
Melody Unger loves to fill the world with sound.
If the spirited 8-year-old isn’t making up the words to her own songs, she’s humming a tune, showing off on her set of drums, asking questions, or playing make-believe on an imaginary pirate ship in her backyard.
When it’s baseball season, she’s captivated by the sounds of the Royals: the crack of the bat, the booming voice of the announcer, and the cheering fans at Kauffman Stadium.
But for the first two years of her life, Melody lived in silence.
You may have read her story several years ago. Melody was born almost four months early with a severe brain bleed, weighing only 13 ounces. When she was 6 months old, Melody took a hearing test and was declared profoundly deaf.
“You could walk up right behind her and clap your hands as loud as you could, and she would just sit there,” said her dad, Kaleb Unger. “She never got startled by noises, she never jumped when something was loud.”
Kaleb brought Melody to Saint Luke’s Hospital Midwest Ear Institute where her otologist, Dr. Bradley Thedinger, determined she was a good candidate for cochlear implants. She underwent the procedure to get them in each ear around the time of her second birthday.
“Our brains start to learn sound in utero, so she had quite a bit of catching up, and it takes a while for that to happen,” said Melody’s pediatric audiologist Jamie Governal.
Melody worked hard with audiologists, a physical therapist, an occupational therapist, a deaf educator, a specialized hearing educator, and a speech therapist.
“It was quite a journey between the specialized in-home education and health and getting her enrolled in preschool, getting her into some of the specialized programs there, and then kindergarten,” Kaleb said. “Now, any time we see her teachers they can’t believe how much she’s grown.”
Melody tackled the massive learning curve and is now looking forward to starting the second grade. She continues to make progress in her speech and language skills step-for-step with the rest of the classroom. She still meets with speech and occupational therapists about 30 minutes a day.
“The goal is to get kids caught up by school age, as long as the cochlear implants are put in when they’re young,” Governal said. “Melody was able to do that without a problem. That requires the right kind of speech therapy, plenty of support at home, and wearing their devices the whole time.”
Melody comes to the Midwest Ear Institute for follow-up appointments every six months. The audiologists do a hearing test, check to make sure the programming of her cochlear implants is at the correct sensitivity level, and check on the equipment.
“Each time we go to the Ear Institute, we’re working to perfect that and make it like a bionic woman,” Kaleb said. “The potential for her hearing with cochlear implants is limitless.”
Melody continues to be fascinated by new sounds and loves to learn about them— from the buzzing of a grasshopper’s wings and how they fly, to the roar of a car’s engine and how it works.
For other parents that may be going through similar obstacles, Kaleb offers a bit of advice.
“Be patient, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Kaleb said. “Be encouraging and answer ALL the questions. It gets tiring and frustrating but answer them all to help them figure it out.
Melody asks me all the time, ‘what’s that sound?’ And I’ll ask her, ‘what does it sound like to you? Is it buzzing, beeping, talking, snoring, humming?’ …It’s amazing how many words we have to describe sound.”