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Sound Sense

Early intervention for hearing loss can change the outcome

Eighteen years ago, Olivia LaRosa faced a number of health problems because of her traumatic birth. She went home from the hospital with a feeding tube and had swelling around her brain for the first 18 months of her life.

Her medical issues eventually subsided, except for one lifelong challenge: hearing impairment.

Her condition led to countless trips to speech therapy, fittings for hearing aids, special alarm clocks, developing a talent for lip reading and struggles meeting milestones.

Those early interventions paid off. Now that she has graduated from Seton High School and is accepted into college at Mount St. Joseph, her family is celebrating the fact that things went right with her treatment.

From the moment Olivia began making babbling sounds, her mom, Lisa LaRosa, brought her to Cincinnati Children's to see speech therapists. They helped her learn to form words, and an audiologist had her fitted for a hearing aid.

“I was very determined,” Lisa says. “I didn’t know any other way. I thought I just had to give her a chance for a successful life.”

It worked. By the time Olivia was in primary school, her speech development was so good that Daniel Choo, MD, director of otology/neurotology at Cincinnati Children’s, took notice. He invited her to a luncheon to meet with physicians and state representatives to help get a law passed for every newborn in Ohio to have a hearing test. At the time of Olivia’s birth, testing was not routine. Olivia had been tested because her birth was traumatic. But in 2004, a state law took effect requiring all babies’ hearing to be tested before they go home from the hospital.

More families now benefit from early detection of hearing loss, Choo says, but they still can learn from the LaRosas’ experience.

“Early identification is the starting point,” Choo says. “But aggressive treatment with hearing aids and speech therapies throughout childhood are a large part of the successful outcome.”

Families must be diligent in following through with treatment, agrees Christine Eby-Fishman, Olivia’s audiologist. “If they hadn’t been so aggressive, it could have gone another way.”

Olivia’s family credits a team approach for getting them through.

“You don’t go through something like this alone,” says Michael LaRosa, Olivia’s dad and CEO of his family’s LaRosa’s pizzeria chain. “We didn’t have the answers. We didn’t have a direction. We were shocked when we first got the news. But the team that is in our backyard here is just phenomenal.”

Olivia says she wants to pay it forward and pursue studies in college that will help her work with children going through the same thing.

“It’s important for me to give back,” she says. “It just feels good to be able to help give them confidence.”

Watch online as the LaRosa family and Olivia’s audiologist talk about overcoming hearing loss.