SGH Makes History

Foto The Borneo Post
KUCHING: Two neurosurgeons and an ENT surgeon created history recently when they successfully installed Auditory Brainstem Implants (ABI) System on two Neurofibromatosis Type 2 (NF2) patients with hearing disabilities.

The feat by Sarawak General Hospital’s neurosurgeons Dr Albert Wong and Dr Donald Liew and Unimas Associate Professor Dr Tang Ing Ping, who is also SGH’s Consultant ENT Surgeon, was the first in the country.

They performed the surgeries at Sarawak General Hospital on Liong Shiu Hui, 30, and Voon Joon Wee, 28, on June 28 and 29 respectively. Each ABI cost RM70,000, so the total cost of the two operations was about RM140,000.

Foto The Borneo Post
Dr Tang said as the two cases were unprecedented, the implant company sponsored RM70,000.

The remaining RM70,000 was sponsored by Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah Embas and the KTS Group of Companies through an arrangement by The Borneo Post.

SGH covered the cost of the operation and medical expenses.

Dr Tang explained that NF2 is a genetic condition commonly associated with bilateral growth of benign tumours on the nerves for balance that leads to the inner ear.

“Patients of NF2 tend to suffer from total hearing loss due to irreversibly damage of auditory nerve through tumour growth or surgical tumour removal.”

He said there were criteria to follow to pick candidates for the ABI – a sophisticated hearing implant system for individuals with hearing loss due to a non-functional auditory nerve.

“The candidates must be 15 years or older, diagnosed with NF2, and had lost the hearing ability on both ears as their cochlear nerves are non-functional or rendered non-functional by the presence or removal of a tumour,” he said.

“By passing the inner ear and auditory nerve, the implant will stimulate the cochlear nucleus; thus providing the patients a variety of hearing sensations to assist with sound awareness and communications. The patients will be able to hear again after learning and getting used to sounds.”

The ABI would be turned on two months after surgery and when there are no infections or complications.

In Liong and Voon’s case, the devices were turned on on August 26.

Dr Tang said it would take time for Liong and Voon to get used to the implants.

“They have to go through therapies and training to pick up the ability of hearing again.”

Dr Wong said the surgeries — each took more than 12 hours — had gone as expected.

“The risks were quite high. The consequences for any wrong move would be quite serious. There could be coma, stroke or even death because we were operating very near to the brainstem,” said Dr Wong.

He admitted that after the surgery, there were worries about complications as both patients had previous operations.

“There were all sorts of scarring, but since it was already two months, it is unlikely they would have complications.”

Dr Wong said Liong and Voon were suitable to receive the implants as they were well supported by their families, were keen for the operations, and had fighting spirit.

“They are very keen people. Both of them have strong family support. Liong has a wife and a daughter, while Voon has a father, who is extraordinarily supportive.”

Dr Wong said the implantations would, however, not solve their health problems completely.

“NF2 is a genetic condition where benign tumours can grow at any place where there is a nerve. These devices only solve part of their problems. As NF2 patients, how they face life will take much more than that — a keen spirit and a supportive family.”

Meanwhile, Liong’s wife, Lee Siew Ping, 30, and Voon’s father, Thiam Loi, 67, thanked everyone who helped give Liong and Voon a better future.

“We want to personally thank all those who helped us. Dr Tang, Dr Wong and Dr Liew did their best to give them (Liong and Voon) a better future. We also want to thank the sponsors and government for their generosity and kindness. The staff of SGH had also given the best possible service to us,” said Lee.

“We are not rich people. We can’t effort the implants. Without all these people, my husband, who lost his hearing for 10 years already, would not have the opportunity to hear again.”

Thiam Loi, who had a tough time caring for Voon, said the ordeal had been hard on his family, but many quarters helped alleviate their burden.

“With so many people — from the doctors and sponsors to the government and medical staff at the hospital helping us — it has been easier to take care of Voon. My son has been in and out of the hospital, so we are truly grateful to all who have been helping us,” said Thiam Loi.

He added that his son became deaf 12 years ago.

“Now that he has been given the opportunity to regain his hearing, I can’t say enough to thank all the kind folk who helped us.”  -BP

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