3-year old from Charlotte hears for the first time, becomes famous

pseligson@newsobserver.comJune 25, 2013 

Grayson Clamp reacts when hearing his father's voice for the first time after being one of the first children in the US to receive an auditory brain stem implant. UNC Hospitals took a video of when Grayson heard his dad's voice for the first time at the end of May, and the video went viral and hit the national news.

UNC SCHOOL OF MEDICINE

  • To donate

    The Clamp family is getting Grayson a service dog to help him with balance, which costs about $14,000. To make a donation for the dog, contact Carolina Family Connections at 704-568-9753.

At the age of 3, Grayson Clamp finally heard his first sounds last month – his father saying “Daddy loves you.”

Grayson’s face lit up with such an expression of surprise and delight that a video of the moment by UNC Hospitals went viral, garnering the Charlotte family national attention.

They’ve been featured on Huffington Post, CBS, ABC and NBC’s The Today Show, and the family appeared on Fox and Friends and CNN’s “New Day!” The UNC video had been viewed on YouTube nearly 960,000 times as of Tuesday.

Grayson’s father, Len Clamp, said he wants to use the attention to share his son’s story – not just the “medical miracle” but the whole journey, from a foster child to adoptee to overcoming hurdles that include a failed cochlear implant. Clamp hopes Grayson’s experience inspires people to take a chance on bringing a new child into their lives.

“We just want to be an encouragement... to families thinking about fostering, thinking about adopting,” Clamp said. “You just step out in faith and do it.”

In April, Grayson became one of the first children in the United States to receive an auditory brain-stem implant, and the first in a clinical trial at UNC Hospitals approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A cochlear implant didn’t work for Grayson because he was born completely deaf and without the hearing nerves that connect the inner ear to the brain.

So doctors inserted an artificial connection including a device on the outside of Grayson’s head that acts like a microphone and can be taken off at any time.

It’s been about a month since the implant was turned on, and Clamp said Grayson is still learning to connect sound to meaning.

“He is a 6-week-old baby from a hearing standpoint,” Clamp said. “So what he’s got to first do is babble and hear his own voice, like an infant, and then go from babbling to talking.”

Craig Buchman, a surgeon at UNC Hospitals and one of Grayson’s doctors, said seeing Grayson’s reaction to the auditory implant was very gratifying.

“It was everything that we had hoped for,” Buchman said. “I think that’s the reason that we got involved in this back when we did. Our hope was we were going to be able to provide some sound information to a child who otherwise had no other hope.”

Grayson’s journey

Grayson was born in December 2009 with a severe heart defect that required open-heart surgery immediately after birth. He spent his first weeks in the hospital until the Clamps became his foster parents in February, his father said.

Grayson was their fifth foster child through Carolina Family Connections, but the first they adopted.

“We pretty much knew that we were going to keep him,” Clamp said. “He didn’t have anywhere else to go.”It took a large team of doctors to perform the brain-stem implant procedure, including a neurosurgeon and audiologist. But even with all the support, the brain-stem implant wasn’t an easy process – Grayson had to have part of the device repaired after the initial surgery.

“We spent almost a month in the hospital,” Clamp said. “He’s just always been a very resilient child, and so we came through that.”

Now, Clamp said, Grayson is doing very well.

“He’s really taken to this new introduction of sound,” he said. “I think he really enjoys it. He’s figuring out what to do with it, how to process it.”

Buchman said he hopes to see Grayson eventually recognize speech as meaningful communication, but that this will take a long time. Grayson must consistently wear the device and work hard in speech therapy for years. At this point, Buchman can’t even be sure of what Grayson hears.

Clamp said he hopes people will look at his family’s journey and feel encouraged to take a chance on things they might feel uncertain about.

“Step out, foster those children,” he said. “That’s what Jesus asked us to do anyways, and adopt if you think it’s the right thing for your family.

“And you might make history.”

Seligson: 919-829-8983

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