IT’S a magical moment in every pregnancy - hearing your baby’s heartbeat for the first time.
But for Kimberley Ward, the moment was extra special, after she became the first woman in the UK to undergo a cochlear implant during pregnancy to fulfil her desire of hearing the heartbeat of her unborn child.
Miss Ward, from Wortley in Leeds, went through surgery at Bradford Royal Infirmary under local anaesthetic on November 25 to enable herself to her the heartbeat of her unborn child and its first cries when she gives birth.
Yesterday, she attended hospital to have the implant turned on for the very first time - and staff arrange for her to hear her baby’s heartbeat as a surprise.
Hearing the heartbeat was one of the major reasons why she asked surgeons to make history by allowing them to carry out the first cochlear implant surgery on a pregnant woman.
“Having the implant switched on was an overwhelming experience,” said an emotional Miss Ward, who started losing her hearing in her teens.
I know that no matter how much I read in advance or asked others for their experience nothing could truly prepare you for the emotions you’d feel when I heard sound it was even more special that one of the first things was to hear my child’s heartbeatKimberley Ward
“I know that no matter how much I read in advance or asked others for their experience nothing could truly prepare you for the emotions you’d feel when I heard sound it was even more special that one of the first things was to hear my child’s heartbeat.
“I now have a busy time ahead to actually understand the sounds as I do have to retrain the nerves in my brain to understand the sound signals but I’m so determined for this to work and ready to put the time and effort in to this being successful. It’s going to be a life changing experience. It’s come around so quickly.”
Miss Ward, a 27-year-old business analyst, underwent surgery for the implant at 17 weeks pregnant after consultations determined this was the safest time to carry out the operation.
She spent part of her life unaware a cochlear implant would benefit her and never understood why her hearing deteriorated.
Miss Ward said: “We have never been given a reason or explanation as to why I lost my hearing. It took a while for my parents and doctors to refer me for audiology tests, as they believed I was lying and it was selective hearing.
“My hearing loss was not as bad at that age but it has since deteriorated over the years. I found it a very difficult and upsetting experience as I started to struggle in school and I was also bullied because of it.”
A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that is surgically implanted and can provide someone who is deaf or severely hard of hearing with a sense of sound.
Although the device will not restore normal hearing, the implant provides a representation of sounds that allows the patient to understand speech.
Miss Ward was referred to Bradford Royal Infirmary for the assessment process in around June this year.
After attending several appointments, she found out she was a suitable candidate but further discussions were had in order to understand if the surgery could go ahead with her going through pregnancy.
Speaking after carrying out the surgery, Professor Chris Raine said: “Being the first, we had to gain advice with pharmacists and other consultants to ensure the drugs we were using posed no risk to the baby or its development.
“We also had to monitor the baby’s development to determine the best time to carry out the surgery under local anesthetic. I like to feel that we are helping Miss Ward fulfill her desire to be able to have the special moment of hearing her child for the first time. If we were not able to safely put in the implant, then it would have been months after she gave birth before she would have been able to have surgery.”
Miss Ward now looking forward to her baby’s first cries along with her partner Liam Binks.
She added: “I’ve had so many messages of encouragement and support about my experience its been really overwhelming. I even have had messages from people who were considering the implant too for themselves too. I’m so pleased it’s given them the opportunity to genuinely think about the experience and what actually happens.
“I am also lucky I had my mum and Liam to look after me too post-op. I do admit having someone wait on you hand and foot certainly has its benefits.”