Cochlear implants the best choice for Harper Rollinson

Three-year-old Bulli girl Harper whose face (inset) said it all when her cochlear implants were turned on this week. Main picture: Adam McLean
Three-year-old Bulli girl Harper whose face (inset) said it all when her cochlear implants were turned on this week. Main picture: Adam McLean

Luke and Katie Rollinson had no choice but to start their baby daughter Harper on chemotherapy at just 12 days old to treat aggressive eye cancer.

It saved Harper’s life, however three years on the little girl lives with some of the side effects of the cancer treatment – the most serious being severe to profound hearing loss.

So recently the Bulli couple was faced with another heartbreaking choice – should she continue with hearing aids or should she undergo cochlear implant surgery.

This week their decision to do the latter was validated – when Harper’s face lit up with joy and astonishment when the bilateral implants were switched on (watch below).

‘’We didn’t have to make a decision with the chemo – it was the only option – so this was harder in a way,’’ Mr Rollinson said. ‘’Because when you have a cochlear implant you can’t reverse it, so it’s a big decision to make for a three-year-old little girl.

‘’But while her hearing aids were giving her the volume, they weren’t giving her the clarity she needed. And while her speech was improving with therapy from The Shepherd Centre, it was behind that of other three-year-olds and that gap would only grow.

‘’So we decided to go ahead and she had the five-hour long surgery on December 1 at Prince of Wales Hospital. On Monday morning they were able to activate the implants, and it was amazing to see her reaction.’’

The couple knew there was every chance Harper would develop retinoblastoma, after genetic testing in utero revealed she had the RB1 gene. Mr Rollinson carries the gene, and had his right eye removed due to a tumour at 18 months old, and replaced with a glass eye.

Harper, pictured with parents ​Luke and Katie, is getting used to the implants. Picture: Adam McLean

Harper, pictured with parents ​Luke and Katie, is getting used to the implants. Picture: Adam McLean

The couple’s first-born, son Eli, was tested when he was six months old and a small tumour was discovered on his retina, which has been successfully treated with laser and cryotherapy. But Harper’s tumour required stronger treatment, and while prognosis is positive, it’s been a rough ride.

‘’She started chemo at just 12 days, and had six rounds over the next six months,’’ Mr Rollinson said. ‘’The treatment was successful but both her and Eli have to be examined under anaesthetic every 12 weeks – up until they’re about six or seven.

​With her parents and brother Eli, 4. Picture: Adam McLean

​With her parents and brother Eli, 4. Picture: Adam McLean

‘’Eli’s vision is not affected at all but we’ve been told Harper will only have peripheral vision in her right eye. But it’s absolutely inspirational to see how resilient she has been and it amazes me – she’s such a strong individual with a heart of gold.’’

The Shepherd Centre spokeswoman Jo Wallace said chemo-induced hearing loss was relatively common for children.

‘’A number of children come through our services undergoing treatment for cancer,’’ she said.

‘’I really feel for them, as going through cancer is big enough and they then have to deal with the aftermath of treatment, such as hearing loss.’’

Ms Wallace said early intervention was key for kids with hearing loss.

‘’Giving children access to sound as soon as possible is essential to their development,’’ she said. ‘’If that is via implants, we help the whole family through the process, and offer ongoing support, therapy and mapping services.’’

Mr Rollinson praised the centre, and Australian Hearing, for their support.

The Rollinsons’ have also helped raised awareness and funding for the many other organisations which have helped them with their journey – including the Children’s Cancer Institute and Camp Quality.