New Implant 'Music to Ears' of Lakeville Sisters

Updated: 03/24/2013 4:35 PM KSTP.com By: Mark Saxenmeyer

Two young sisters in Lakeville are the first people in the upper Midwest to benefit from a new implantable hearing device.

They were both born with defective ear canals that prevent sound from reaching their ear drums.

But now, this revolutionary procedure puts a stop to the silence.

Their names are Claire Differding, 10, and her little sister Julia, 6.

In the Differding home, the sound of music comes at every turn. Clair plays the flute, Julia tickles the ivories on the piano, and their big sister Maddie toots the trumpet.

Their mom Janice is a music teacher. "They've just advanced beautifully in their music," she said.

Yet just a short time ago that wasn't the case. Both Claire and Julia were born with a condition called Microtia Atresia. One ear on each girl was malformed. "There's no hearing on that side," Janice explained. "It's closed."

It's extremely rare. "The doctors told us one in 20 thousand have it," said David Differding, the girls' father.

For years, the Differdings found few medically viable solutions. "You want to fix it and you can't," Janice said. "And you feel helpless."

The girls struggled in school. "When the teacher said something, I didn't hear what she said," Julia admitted.

Friends would become impatient with them. Claire explained, "I would ask them 'what did you say?' and they'd say 'never mind' and I don't like when people do that."

But a year ago, the Differdings learned about Sophono (www.sophono.com), a new medical hearing device specially designed for the girls' condition. The procedure was FDA-approved in late 2011 but it wasn't performed in Minnesota until just recently.

Both girls had what's called the Sophono Alpha 2 implanted under their scalps a year ago.

"They put this little metal plate in there and then it's a magnet," Claire said. An additional, removable component of the device, called a sound processor, can be easily attached to and removed from the magnet. Unlike other similar products and procedures, there isn't a "post" extruding from underneath the skin. Posts require daily cleaning and are a risk for infection.

Maddie says with both her sisters now hearing properly, "we don't have to spend as much time explaining stuff to them."

Even better, says David, "it's like turning a switch on and they're learning, where before they were missing all this information. It just shocked me to see their test scores improve so dramatically."

"The best part is seeing all my grades rocket-ship up," Claire agreed.

And of course, there's also the music.

"Before I could barely hear it. Now, I've been able to hit the right notes," Claire said of her improved performance on the flute, as well as the piano.

The phrase "music to the ears" has never sounded better.

Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at msaxenmeyer@kstp.com