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"A beautiful moment": Newborn battling meningitis becomes among youngest to ever receive cochlear implant

Newborn receives cochlear implant, among youngest ever to get one
Newborn receives cochlear implant, among youngest ever to get one 03:25

SAVAGE, Minn. — Part of parenting is making tough decisions, and a Savage mother and father had to make a life-changing one. Now, they're talking with WCCO after their daughter became the youngest person to receive a cochlear implant at Children's Minnesota.

A sharp contrast to her smooth and celebrated birth, young Diana Strohm was rushed to the NICU and ER at 3 days old. She was running a high fever.

"It just felt like something was off, with the fever, just a weird vibe," Justin Strohm said.

The parents' intuition was right. Diana had bacterial meningitis, a rare condition newborns can contract. She needed a shunt in her brain and intensive care, and after months in Children's Minnesota, the young girl had made some big progress.

"She made it through the meningitis battle, which was huge. That was very frightening and very close," Crystal Strohm said.

But then another battle began. The meningitis was quickly stealing her hearing, and fluid was causing her cochlea to quickly close.

"'If we don't act quickly, we may never be able to give the opportunity to hear out of that ear.' Obviously, that's a lot for a family to process," Dr. Asitha Dineth Libbey Jayawardena explained.

They had to decide if they wanted to give Diana a cochlear implant, a permanent hearing device.  

"We had one week to make the decision as to whether we were going to do a cochlear implant or not," Justin Strohm said.

It's a fairly standard procedure on older kids, but there was only one other child ever who was as young as Diana who had the surgery because that baby had meningitis too.

"I knew that was the only option for her," Jayawardena said. "So then it became a discussion with the family, 'Hey, this is what I think we need to do for your child.'  And this is not something I have ever done, or has been done in Minnesota, and there's only one other person who has had this procedure successfully done before Diana."

The parents trusted that the team had the tools, and after a long and grueling surgery, Diana had a cochlear implant. Because of her delicate size, they had to wait months to see if it worked.

Ultimately, the whole family was on hand to watch as the earpiece lit up, making it official that Diana's right ear could hear.

"I thought it was a beautiful moment. Her eyes got super wide and she was just looking at me with that cute little innocence like, 'I can hear something," Crystal Strohm said.

Cochlear implants are only approved for kids this young in rare cases. The family hopes parents in a similar situation will have the advantage of hearing about Diana's journey.

"What Diana's done and her family's done I think will help a lot of people in the future," Jayawardena said.

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