Cochlear Implants Have Helped 16-Year-Old Thrive and Serve

His families’ voices are sweet music to the ears of 16-year-old David Cluff.

Those voices, as well as music overall, are two of the sweetest sounds he hears since receiving a cochlear implant at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

David was born with cytomegalovirus (CMV), a common virus that rarely causes obvious illness. However, it can damage the nervous system, including causing hearing loss, as it did in David. At age 4, he was fitted for hearing aids, and by age 6 he was completely deaf.

David received his first cochlear implant in 1999 in Salt Lake City, Utah. The Cluff family moved from Utah to Pacific, Mo., in 2000. He received his second cochlear implant at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

Cochlear implants are surgically placed devices with externally worn components designed to provide hearing to those who are profoundly deaf and aid them in communicating. The Cochlear Implant Program at St. Louis Children’s Hospital is jointly offered by the hospital and the Washington University Department of Otolaryngology.

Washington University School and Medicine and St. Louis Children’s Hospital have completed more than 550 pediatric cochlear implant surgeries since the mid 1980s, including a rapidly-increasing number of bilateral cochlear implantations, or two implants.

My mom says that when I got my first implant, I came to life again,” David says. “If implants were not available, I know I would have adjusted to silence. But implants have been a miracle. They have given me the opportunity to help others.”

Sweet Music
David Cluff with other members of the Cochlear Implant Teen Support Group 

David uses every opportunity to help. He leads the St. Louis Children’s Hospital Cochlear Implant Teen Support Group. He also is a Boy Scout patrol leader, and does service activities with his church. He enjoys spending time with family, reading, photography and drawing.

As support group leader, he helps plan activities like pizza parties and bowling. The group also hosted a panel of deaf adults with implants. “One of the main points is to help other families and teens who have questions about implants,” David says. “It’s also a chance to meet these awesome teens.”

David says his deafness rarely holds him back. “I realize I can do anything I set my mind to. I feel the same as those around me. I may look different with things sticking on my head, but I try to make the best of it everyday.”

He and his family appreciate the St. Louis Children’s Hospital audiology team. ““I am very grateful for the audiology team who opened the door for me to receive a second Implant,” David says. “The audiologists and other staff do so much to help me.”

The audiology team is equally impressed with David.

"David does not let hearing loss get in his way,” says Jamie Cadieux, St. Louis Children’s Hospital audiologist. “He has taken advantage of medical technology, worked hard to improve his listening and speech skills, taught other people about hearing loss, and lived his life as if he were a hearing person. He is a leader and an inspiration."

David’s advice to those who can hear – “It’s quiet world when you are deaf,” he says. “Even just smiling can put a spark in someone’s eyes. One of the things I appreciate the most is when my hearing friends are patient when I don’t understand something they said. I am grateful when people will repeat things and not just say ‘never mind’.”

David would like to become an audiologist. “I know what it is like to have an implant and I know the best of both worlds,” David says. “I love working with kids and families and I want to help them in any way I can.”

At his young age, he already has helped many.