Tasmanian families working through hearing loss with The Shepherd Centre

Hope for Eli: Rebecca Unwin and Eli, 17 months, from Kings Meadows enjoy playtime together at home. Picture: Scott Gelston
Hope for Eli: Rebecca Unwin and Eli, 17 months, from Kings Meadows enjoy playtime together at home. Picture: Scott Gelston

When Rebecca Unwin was told her two-month-old son Eli had profound hearing loss in both ears, she didn’t leave the house for a week.

“When I got that news … it shatters your world, because at the end of the day you have all these plans for your child,” she said.

“The thing that was going through my mind was, ‘my baby is never going to hear me say I love him, he’s never going to tell me he loves me’.

“That was the one thing that really drilled into my head.”

Rebecca and her husband Bruce had their lives turned upside down following Eli’s unexpected diagnosis, navigating an unfamiliar world that they had no preparation for.

Told that Eli’s best option was cochlear implants, which could be implanted from six months old, the Unwins began to work through their child’s future prospects.

A suggestion from a friend saw them headed to Hobart for a workshop with The Shepherd Centre in April.

The Shepherd Centre, based in Sydney, works with deaf children and their parents to comprehensively cover all of the impacts of hearing loss, working in rural and remote areas through teleintervention services.

Director of clinical programs Aleisha Davis said the Shepherd Centre’s work in Tasmania was driven by the needs of families like the Unwins.

“We were getting lots of families from Tasmania … speaking out for support, because they had individual support services but not combined services like the Shepherd Centre, combining audiologists and therapists all under the one service,” Ms Davis said.

“It stemmed out of the teleintervention, and now, being able to support [families] through workshops, we do a number of site visits once a year.”

Mrs Unwin described the support from the Centre as “amazing”.

“We … felt like they were as interested in Eli’s development as we were,” she said.

Three weeks after the workshop in Hobart, the Shepherd Centre had the Unwins on a plane to Sydney for Eli’s six-hour cochlear implant surgery: an operation Mrs Unwin described as “the longest wait of my life”.

His implants were switched on a few days later, giving him the permanent ability to hear and interact with his parents.

The Unwins now has weekly teleconferences with a Shepherd Centre therapist, which will continue as Eli grows up, and gradually be reduced to fortnightly and then monthly support sessions as he learns speech and sign language.

“He makes sounds, and turns to sounds – it’s only early days but it’s so great to see all the hard work paying off,” Mrs Unwin said.