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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Can you hear me(ow) now? Just fine, thanks

  • Jaycee Nealley, 2, was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard."  On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jaycee Nealley, 2, was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard." On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.

    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jaycee Nealley, 2, laughs while working with her therapists one morning at her home in Epsom. Jaycee was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard."  On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Jaycee Nealley, 2, laughs while working with her therapists one morning at her home in Epsom. Jaycee was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard." On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.
    (JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Scott Neally, left, plays with his daughter Abbigail, 9 months, while his wife, Kim, holds Jaycee, 2, at their home in Epsom. Jaycee was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard."  On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

    Scott Neally, left, plays with his daughter Abbigail, 9 months, while his wife, Kim, holds Jaycee, 2, at their home in Epsom. Jaycee was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard." On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

  • Jaycee Nealley, 2, was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard."  On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.<br/><br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Jaycee Nealley, 2, laughs while working with her therapists one morning at her home in Epsom. Jaycee was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard."  On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.<br/>(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
  • Scott Neally, left, plays with his daughter Abbigail, 9 months, while his wife, Kim, holds Jaycee, 2, at their home in Epsom. Jaycee was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a condition her parents, Kim and Scott, discovered through screening shortly after her birth. At 16 months, she received surgery that took about 10 hours to place cochlear implants in her head. On December 7, the device was activated and Jaycee was brought in to the hearing world, her mother said. The next day, her mother said she heard their cat Missy and Jaycee signed, "Momma. Kitty. Heard."  On Sunday, the family will participate in the seventh annual New England 5K Walk4Hearing event in Brighton, Massachusetts, a walk to support awareness of hearing. So far, Team Jaycee has raised $500 for its first walk.(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)

The cat meowed, then the little girl signed with her hands, then the mom cried with joy.

Meow, sign, cry means a lot at the Nealley home in Epsom, where Kim and her husband, Scott, live with their two kids, Jaycee and Abbigail.

Ready for a mouthful? Jaycee, now 28 months old, was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and had cochlear implants surgically placed into her skull at 16 months.

Translation: The little girl was born deaf, and now she has full range of hearing. She brought her mother to tears by indicating through sign language that she’d heard the family pet shortly after the 10-hour procedure.

Tomorrow morning, 12 months after the surgery, the Nealleys will walk in the seventh New England 5K Walk4Hearing at Artesani Park in Brighton, Mass.

Money raised will go toward equipment that changes spoken words into captions on a screen, college scholarships for people with hearing loss and education so those with hearing loss can better adapt to society, and those who can hear will have a better understanding about the world of silence.

Medical technology was able to restore Jaycee’s hearing, as long as she wears her two implants. They attach behind her ears, a magnet on the outside that grabs another magnet placed below her skin.

“It’s everyday life for us now,” said Kim, shortly after a pair of special educators finished working with Jaycee at the family’s home this week. “But it’s also a continuous adjustment. Her sister will have to learn to sign, but every time Jaycee hears something, it’s exciting for her and for us.”

She calls them “wow moments,” none of which were bigger than the meow moment – the day Missy the cat spoke and Jaycee responded.

But more on that later.

First, let’s get the medical stuff out of the way. Jaycee was born unable to translate sounds into signals to the brain. Screening showed that brain waves were not responding to sound as Jaycee slept. The exact condition was diagnosed about eight months later.

“Everyone has their own challenges,” said Scott, a factory worker in Manchester. “It’s just something we were going to have to endure for her.

“But it gave us clarity, once we found out,” Scott continued. “We were wondering why she doesn’t react. It was a red flag, then it was like, ‘This is the reason, you better know how to cope with the problem.’ ”

Kim had already begun teaching her daughter simple signing by the time doctors inserted a system that now converts sounds into coded electrical pulses. At a cost of $50,000, most of which has been covered by insurance, Jaycee can hear, and a lot of what she hears makes her laugh.

The day after the device was activated, last December, Missy the cat approached the baby gate and asked that the door be opened so she could join Kim and Jaycee in the living room. Scott was in the kitchen, doing dishes.

“Meow.”

In a flash, Jaycee spoke to her mother.

First, she placed her thumb on her chin and extended her open hand in front of her face.

“Momma.”

Then she pressed her thumb against the tip of her middle finger and swept her remaining fingers across her upper lip, away from her face, signifying whiskers.

“Kitty.”

Finally, she put her thumb in her ear and raised her index finger straight up, forming a right angle against her head.

“Hear.”

Her meaning was clear. Crystal clear.

“It was proof the device was working,” Kim said. “She heard the cat.”

Rain pounding the roof and thunder crackling have since been heard. In fact, Jaycee hears everything now, and that allows her to speak well.

“If you’re not brought up with hearing, you don’t know how you sound and it affects how you sound when talking,” Scott said. “She knows what she sounds like. She’s heard it because of the implant.”

The equipment is attached on each side of a headband, with a flower on top and two tiny red lights visible below Jaycee’s sprouting pigtails. Kim says she’s often stopped in places like the grocery store, because people initially think her daughter is wearing something cool for kids – like those blinking sneakers introduced a few years back.

“I have to educate people when they ask,” Kim said. “Yeah, they’re cool looking, but they’re her ears.”

Two aides come to the Nealley home twice a week to work with Jaycee. Jenifer Morris works for Multi-Sensory Intervention through Consultation and Education, a statewide program, Lynn Van Cleave for Community Bridges, centered in Concord.

One recent morning, they sat on the living room floor with Jaycee, toys and plastic figures spread around, Kim watching from the couch and Scott seated next to her, dozing after his recent graveyard shift.

The two professionals showed Jaycee picture cards, of a bee and a ghost, and asked her to make the sounds they make.

Jaycee buzzed and booed. She also put a little woman on a little horse, as requested. She listened and she heard.

“Fantastic job; great strides,” Morris said later.

“She amazes us every time we come here with what she’s learned,” Van Cleave added.

Tomorrow’s walk will benefit many who are less fortunate than Jaycee, because there’s no surgery available to help them hear.

More than 600 people showed up last year, with Hurricane Sandy slamming the region. The Nealleys couldn’t make it, but Team Jaycee has secured $500 in sponsorship for this year.

“We’ll be there this time,” Scott said. “She’ll probably run it.”

That would be Jaycee.

The cat’s meow.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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