Alec Mazur is a happy kid. Like any seven-year-old, he's an avid baseball fan; he loves the Yankees, soccer, Lilo and Stitch and chocolate chip cookies. Energetic and playful, Alec has an easy smile and talks animatedly about his favorite things, despite having conductive hearing loss. Alec was born with Microtia and Atresia (underdeveloped ears and canals), resulting in 70 percent hearing in his left ear and total deafness in his right ear.
For the first years of his life, Alec's parents, Rick and Magda Mazur, were taking him for numerous hearing tests without any helpful feedback. Frustrated, they felt they had no place to turn until they found out about the Early Childhood Center (ECC), at Mill Neck Manor School for the Deaf. "My wife and I finally felt, for the first time, that Alec was going to get the best care," said Rick. Alec attended the ECC from September 2001 through June 2003, graduated, and began regular school.
As a hard-of-hearing child, Alec wore a hearing aid in his left ear, but it was only through the services provided at the ECC that Rick and his wife learned about the benefits of such a device. "We were in consultation with some of the best doctors around and never received a recommendation for a hearing aid," said Rick.
Affected by his hearing impairment at school, Alec had a hard time socializing with other children. "He tends to socialize better with adults because they are more predictable," said Rick. As his speech has improved, however, so has his confidence at school. Having brothers, Ricky, four and Tommy, 21 months, helps. Both are hearing children who enjoy the attention of their older brother, and the feeling is mutual for Alec.
It was Alec's difficulties, and Rick and Magda's growing disappointment with the lack of medical expertise, which led them to a hopeful new product called the BAHA. The BAHA system, which links a sound processor to a device implanted behind the ear, provided a welcome solution for the Mazurs. Implanting the device involves several surgeries. When the process is complete, the device is turned on, enabling sound to pass through the bone, rather than the ear. Ultimately, this will reduce the infections and headaches normally associated with traditional hearing devices.
The day they found out about the BAHA system, the Mazurs were watching a news program about a non-profit organization called The Little Baby Face Foundation that funds corrective surgeries using the BAHA device. Rick remembers their excitement about the possibility of improving Alec's life. "The next day my wife contacted Dr. Thomas Romo III, who is president of The Little Baby Face Foundation and a world renowned facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon." Dr. Romo discussed the reconstructive techniques and the BAHA device, and put the Mazurs in contact with Dr. Darius Kohan, an otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat expert) who specializes in the BAHA system.
The Mazurs felt both relieved and concerned about the upcoming procedures that Alec would soon face. "If my wife and I were not watching the news program, how long would we have waited to find out about the BAHA? I guess my frustration lies within the medical community," said Rick. "I believe that with all of the specialists we went to, someone should have been aware of these wonderful procedures," he added.
Ready for surgery, Alec met the requirements for this extensive series of operations. "The current age requirement for the implanted device is six years old. Another factor is the maturity of the child's skull. If it was too thin, the implant would have to be delayed," commented Rick. With a maturity beyond his young age, Alec endured the surgeries bravely. Rick said, "We have learned so much from Alec. The trust and faith he has is something to admire."
The Mazurs made sure to talk to Alec before his surgeries and explained what the doctors would do and why. Preparing him helped, and lightened the worries they all had. Alec's sense of humor was a relief as well. Rick explained, "Once we were in the hospital, he got a good laugh out of seeing us in medical gowns and hats as we prepared to take him into the operating room." Alec had surgery this past March to implant anchors. "After they wheeled him to recovery, he woke up for literally ten seconds to give us the 'thumbs-up' sign and went back to sleep for two hours. He truly is amazing!" added Rick.
When Alec was waiting for the device to be turned on, the Mazurs didn't think he had any unwarranted expectations. "We thought since Alec never had hearing on his right side, he wouldn't know what to expect, but to see him with bilateral hearing would be an absolute thrill. There was an excitement in our family that can be compared to Christmas eve as a child," said Rick.
Despite all the preparation, the day Alec heard well for the first time was even more exciting than the Mazurs imagined. Suddenly, Alec was making comments they never thought they would hear. He would say "It's too loud in here" or ask, "Does the baby cry all the time?" Alec is now asking questions regarding various everyday sounds around him and he no longer looks at his father's mouth to figure out what he's saying. Relying on his hearing more and more, Alec responds to sound and reacts quicker than before. He will soon begin reconstructive surgery on his jaw and right ear, and in one to two years, the process will finally be complete.
This ordeal has brought the Mazurs a wealth of experience. Although Alec has graduated from Mill Neck's Early Childhood Center, Rick remains involved at the school on a fundraising committee. He offers this generous advice to parents going through similar hardships. "Research the devices that are available and discuss them with your physician. Contact us if you have any questions. I wish there was someone out there who could have helped us in the beginning," said Rick.
The Early Childhood Center provides early and intensive assistance to children, ages three and four, with deficits in hearing, speech and/or language. The Center also provides full evaluations of preschool children suspected of having special needs. The ECC is part of the Mill Neck Family of Organizations, a not-for-profit group dedicated to serving Deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals through educational, vocational and spiritual programs and services. For more information about any of its programs, please call 922-4100 or visit http://www.millneck.org.