When Jessica Chaikof was born in February 1995, doctors at an Atlanta hospital placed a pair of headphones on her, piping sounds into her newborn ears while an electrode stuck to her tiny head measured her brain’s response to the noise. Her parents, Melissa and Elliot, held their breath.
Newborn hearing screenings wouldn’t become widespread in the United States for a few more years, but Jessica was considered at high risk for deafness. Her older sister, Rachel, was born with profound hearing loss and went completely deaf at 18 months old.
In the hospital, the couple waited while the audiologist tried the test on Jessica again and again. After several attempts, the doctor still couldn’t get a response in either ear. Her parents knew what that meant — their second daughter was deaf, too. Experts had told the Chaikofs that Rachel’s deafness was brought on by a viral infection, but Jessica’s diagnosis meant that the cause was genetic. At three weeks old, Jessica was outfitted with hearing aids, but she never responded to sound.
The Chaikofs wanted to help Jessica... see more