Two-Year-Old Ukrainian Refugee Receives “Gift of Sound” From Miraculous Surgery in the United States
In a journey filled with despair and resilience, a Ukrainian family fled the country for a better life in the United States.
Though Diana Kuzmina and her husband, Oleh, dreamt of coming to the United States since the birth of their children, their visas were denied repeatedly.
However, in February 2022, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began and they were granted refugee status.
Though the war waging in their home country left them with no choice, they were also partially driven by the medical needs of their daughter. They feared their young 2-year-old daughter, Zlata Kuzmina, was completely deaf. They grew increasingly worried as she seemed unresponsive to verbal communication.
The trip from Odessa, Ukraine, to the United States took nearly two months, with stays in Moldova, the Czech Republic, Poland, and Germany. They left everything behind except what they could carry– their two children.
The family ultimately settled in Boiling Springs, South Carolina– where Oleh Kuzmin landed a job at a nearby BMW plant.
The family also says they were welcomed by the community, who wanted to help.
After speaking to countless medical professionals, to no avail, The Kuzmina family finally discovered a compassionate hearing specialist who offered them help.
The doctor in question was Dr. Teddy McRackan, a surgeon and cochlear implant specialist. In a beautiful twist of fate, it turns out the doctor’s great-grandparents even fled persecution in Odessa a century before, although he said that’s not what connected them.
Dr. McRackan added the connection was more “as a parent trying to do the best thing for their child, because I could only imagine if it were my child and, you know, they were in an extremely unfortunate situation.” The doctor claims in the United States, every child should get screened for hearing loss as “part of the routine workup” before the child leaves the hospital. But specified, it “doesn’t exist in the Ukraine.”
It wasn’t until Zlata was about six months old that her mother realized there were issues related to her hearing — at which point the war broke out.
Back in South Carolina, doctors performed a series of diagnostic tests on the young Zlata.
“We saw that she was responding at very, very loud levels to noise in that right ear,” McRacken said– making a surgical procedure possible.
So, McRackan and his team placed a cochlear implant in her ear in a surgery performed at the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital. A cochlear implant involves an internal processor, and a receiver inserted under the skin and muscle behind her right ear. A path is then created for an electrode that stimulates the auditory nerve.
Essentially, it picks up audio signals, sending them to the brain which then interprets them as sound for that ear.
But the surgery was no guarantee she would hear sound in her right ear. Still, McRackan said it would “give her the best chance possible when it comes to having a kind of auditory hearing.”
The family waited a month for the incision to heal before the device could be turned on to determine if the procedure was a success– and to everyone’s joy it was.
When the device was turned on, Zlata could finally hear the world around her.
The patience and committed attention of these doctors changed the Kuzmina family’s life.
Modern technology has remarkable capacities to improve quality of life, but without the empathy of the humans involved, would never have found their way to Zlata.
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