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Have you heard about a Canadian first right here in Prince George?

Lily Palmer and her mother Andrea get Lily’s cochlear implants checked, remotely, by an audiologist at BC Children’s Hospital. Bill Phillips photo

“Can you hear me now? … Can you hear me now?”

It’s a well-known phrase from a phone company extolling the clarity of it’s wireless network.

The phrase, however, has a bit of a different meaning for 13-year-old Lily Palmer, who taps into a wireless network to actually hear. Or, more accurately, get her hearing tuned up.

Lily, who has been profoundly deaf all her life, has cochlear implants which allow her to hear .. digitally. Until last week she had to go to BC Children’s Hospital in the Lower Mainland to have her implants checked and, if necessary, adjusted.

BC Children’s Hospital has launched Canada’s first ongoing remote clinical service for cochlear implant patients, in Prince George. It’s called virtual mapping.

Lily Palmer

Despite all the complicated technology, it’s actually quite simple. Lily shows up for her appointment, just as she would at Children’s Hospital and her implants are hooked into a computer. But rather than sit in a room with the hospital’s cochlear implant coordinator, Raegan Bergstrom, she sits in front of a terminal and FaceTime’s the health care professional.

Bergstrom can make any, and all, adjustments to Lily’s implants remotely.

The whole process started about a year ago when BC Children’s Hospital contacted Lily’s mother, Andrea, who, coincidentally, works for Northern Health.

“One thing that’s important for Lily is to see the faces of the people that are talking to her, to be able to lip read when she has her equipment turned off,” said Andrea. “It’s actually way cooler than I expected.”

The obvious benefit is to help Lily’s hearing, but another is to limit the number of trips to the Lower Mainland, which has been ongoing since Lily was very young.

“It’s a money save, time saver, and sanity saver,” said Andrea. “When you first get the technology, you’re expected to go down there every couple of months and that’s what we did for the first couple of years, post implant. In her toddler, there was a ton of travel.”

Palmer said that they were lucky in that they had relatives in the Lower Mainland they could stay with. Not everyone is so lucky. 

“Telehealth, in this capacity, is a huge saver,” said Andrea.

For Lily, it’s a bit overwhelming to be the first person in Canada to benefit from this technology.

“It’s pretty amazing,” she said. “It’s really, really cool. I’m happy to do it.”

Quick Facts:

  • BC Children’s is the only location in the province where children can access cochlear implant technology and support.
  • From age 1 to 18, kids with cochlear implants travel an average of 30 times from their home in BC to Vancouver to get their cochlear implant mapped.
  • The Virtual Cochlear Implant Service can cut those trips in half and improve health-care access for BC families.
  • Currently, there are approximately 250 deaf and hard of hearing children with cochlear implants in BC and Children’s provides about 35 new cochlear implants each year.

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