Labrador family lobbies province for 'bionic hearing' tech upgrade

Jonathan Buckle's earpieces were cracked, and the batteries kept popping out. They had to be held together with tape.

It wasn't surprising. Jonathan, a 13-year-old Happy Valley-Goose Bay boy who uses two cochlear implants to hear, had been wearing the same equipment since he was a toddler.

The earpieces held up pretty well, but then the company that made them stopped building replacement parts.  

Without the earpieces, Jonathan's world would go silent.

"We knew at that time we had to try to get things fixed — and fixed quickly," said his mother, Tina Buckle. 

There are two parts to the technology: the implanted part, placed under the skin behind his ears, and the over-the-ear processor, equipped with microphones to capture sound his ears cannot.

It's "bionic hearing," as his dad, Darren Buckle, explains.

An appeal to fix outdated technology

With the processors on their last legs, Darren and Tina Buckle started lobbying the Newfoundland and Labrador government — not only for Jonathan but for everyone using the outdated technology.

It was time for an upgrade and the health department would need to cover it.

"Just the equipment alone is $25,000," Buckle said, "just for one side."

The Buckles got together with other parents whose children used the same technology, and started talking to their MHAs.

Two weeks later, they had a deal.

"I think we broke a record, it happened so quickly," Darren Buckle said with a laugh.

'It's way clearer'

Last month, Jonathan got his new earpieces and says the difference has been dramatic. 

"It's way clearer," he said, explaining that the new processors have different settings for different surroundings, like crowded rooms or windy environments.

What's more, he's able to get the new processors wet, which means he can wear them while swimming.

The Buckles just went on vacation, and Jonathan was looking forward to trying them out in the pool.

"He spends all of his time in the pool, all day, and he's deaf during that period. So it's really nice that he's going to be able to interact more with the other children and just enjoy his time that much more," his father said.  

Campaign will continue

The family is grateful they were able to get Jonathan's processors upgraded so quickly.

As for why they decided to go to bat for other families, Tina Buckle it just made sense.

"We need to work together as a group and we recognize that there are families and children out there who may not be in the same place in terms of being able to advocate," she said.

"It's about a quality of life. I mean, if his devices were to go down, or any child's, they can't even go to school. What's the point of going to school if they can't hear?"

Jonathan's new gear will last him for a long while, but the Buckles say they're not done campaigning.

There are still people in Newfoundland and Labrador processors that aren't quite as old as Jonathan's were, but will soon be obsolete.

Darren Buckle says the goal is to lobby government to automatically fund newer technology, so that "when this obsolescence happens next year, the other kids will be able to get their devices upgraded right away."