By Terri Peters
When 2-year-old Ryan Aprea had cochlear implant surgery in November, his mom, Jennifer, says she wasn’t sure what to expect when the device was activated a month later.
Aprea shared the moment last week in a video that has now gone viral. In the clip, the Huntington Beach, California, mom says, “Hi, Buddy,” to her son, and is rewarded with a reaction she calls “amazing” — a fit of giggles from her little boy.
Born as a micro preemie at only 25 weeks gestation, Aprea says Ryan began his life with a seven-month stay in the neonatal intensive care unit, where she and her husband learned that he was deaf shortly before his discharge.
But a cochlear implant offered hope.
“We went into the appointment not knowing if he would respond at all. Throughout this process, they had informed us that while sound would enter his brain, every child has a different response. We weren’t sure if his brain would process the sound, but we wanted to give him a chance to hear us and communicate because he is also visually impaired,” said Aprea.
Aprea, who has posted frequently about the cochlear implant process on the Facebook page of her cloth diaper supply company, tells TODAY Parents that since the activation, Ryan has been doing great — exploring toys that make sounds for the first time and taking in his surroundings with his newfound ability to hear.
“He’s been interacting with us and giving us more intentional eye contact just in the few days since he’s had it turned on. My heart melts every single time he looks at me,” said Aprea.
As for future plans for Ryan’s treatment, Aprea says she and her family are taking things one day at a time. The mother of two says she’s looking forward to taking her son for a drive to look at holiday lights while listening to Christmas music — a tradition her family shares every year, but one that will have new meaning this season.
Aprea says she is shocked that her video has gone viral, adding that she looks forward to seeing more people learn about cochlear implants as videos and articles about stories like Ryan’s become more prevalent.
She’s heard a lot of strong opinions about cochlear implants from online commenters — including some negative ones — and offers some advice to parents dealing with big decisions about their child’s health care.
“You know your child better than anyone — I learned that one in the NICU. You need to do what’s best for him or her and give them every opportunity available to succeed in life. I would say, do a lot of research, talk to people who have been through it with their own kids, and then go with your heart,” she said.