For someone who has not even turned two yet, Egan Pillay of Durban has already had to overcome some formidable healthcare challenges in his life.

The 22-month-old has suffered a life-threatening heart condition, undergone two heart repair operations, overcome a bout of yellow jaundice, been diagnosed with profound deafness and has now had a cochlear device implanted which will assist him to hear for the first time.

“Our family fondly calls Egan the ‘Little Fighter’ because of everything he has had to deal with,” says his proud father, Kreason Pillay. “No child should have to endure what Egan has during his young life, yet he has done so with the greatest courage, bouncing back cheerfully from every one of the considerable obstacles he has faced. Egan is a great gift and an inspiration to our family, and we are so grateful to have him in our lives.”

One of smallest children to have received a cochlear implantation

Egan recently became the first patient to receive a cochlear implantation at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital, as part of a new cochlear programme to assist in tackling the problem of deafness in the province. His is also the first such procedure to be performed at a Netcare hospital in KwaZulu-Natal.

Dr Yougan Saman, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon who practises at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital and was part of the team that implanted Egan’s cochlear device, says that the procedure was completed successfully and the device will be turned on four to six weeks from now, once he has fully recovered from the surgery.

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“It is most advantageous to implant a cochlear device in children before the age of three, so that the child is able to develop their ‘hearing’ with the aid of the device while they are still at a critical stage of their development,” he explains.

“Egan has a wonderful temperament and is an inspirational little boy and it was most gratifying for the team at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital to be involved in his treatment and to see him doing so well,” adds Dr Saman.

He says that Egan weighed just 8,5 kilogrammes at the time of the procedure, and is one of the smallest children to have received a cochlear implantation. His procedure was also unusual in that he was fitted with a Med-El cochlear device that is friendly for use with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scanning technology.

“With his heart condition, Egan may have to undergo MRI in the future. We therefore had to implant a device compatible with such technology, as it would not be an option to remove the implant every time Egan required a scan.

“Egan’s family have shown great determination in finding him the necessary assistance, which bodes well for his future development. This is because he will require follow up therapies and much dedication from his parents to assist him to develop his hearing and speech into the future,” says Dr Saman.

“Egan was groggy following the implantation procedure,” relates his father. “His eyes were also swollen so that he couldn’t see, which he found very distressing, and I had to hold him throughout the night to keep him calm. I was grateful for the assistance of a wonderful nurse at Netcare uMhlanga Hospital that night.

“By the morning the swelling had subsided, and he was ecstatic to see again and soon we were walking through the ward together. I remember he was particularly captivated by a fish mural that he spotted in the hospital and I knew he was rapidly recovering his strength.”

“Our family is so very grateful to all of the doctors, healthcare professionals, nurses and everyone who has supported us as a family and who made it possible for him to be here with us today.

Born a little fighter

Egan was born at Netcare Parklands Hospital on 2 October 2015. “He lived up to his nickname of the ‘Little Fighter’ from the time he entered the world,” points out Pillay. “While in the nursery after birth, a diligent nurse alerted paediatrician, Dr Japie F Roos, of Egan’s laboured breathing which sounded more like grunting.”

“Dr Roos immediately had Egan transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit. It was discovered that Egan had a heart condition. With a weakened immune system, he also developed jaundice, which was successfully treated.”

It was recommended that Egan receive treatment for his heart condition at Netcare Sunninghill Hospital’s dedicated paediatric cardiac centre. “On 2 November 2015, Egan was transported there in an intensive care ambulance with a team of Netcare 911 paramedics in attendance,” reports Pillay.

At Netcare Sunninghill Hospital, paediatric cardiologist, Dr Kenny Govendragelo, diagnosed Egan with a coarctation (narrowing) of the aorta, and this required highly intricate surgery to repair. He underwent his first operation at the hospital on 3 November 2015 and on his discharge, came home with us for the first time since his birth.

“However, Egan had on-going problems with high blood pressure and required another operation, which was performed on 19 February 2016. He responded well to the treatment, and thereafter really started to regain his energy and come into his own,” says Pillay.

“At home, however, we noticed that Egan did not respond when we called him or tried to stimulate him with sounds,” Pillay notes. “Dr Roos made an appointment with an audiologist and it was determined that he was profoundly deaf in both ears and cochlear implantation was recommended.”

“We were referred to a terrific non-profit organisation, Hi Hopes, for assistance in dealing with Egan’s deafness, and Egan was found to be a good candidate for a cochlear implant. Our spirits were lifted by this news at what was otherwise a pretty traumatic time,” he relates.

“So many people and institutions have helped us along the way and it is impossible to express our gratitude to all of them here. We would, however, like to thank all of the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals at the various Netcare hospitals, as well as from other practices and institutions, for their assistance. Egan of course has been such a champion through all of this and he gives us strength to continue this fight to do our best for him.”

Netcare uMhlanga Hospital general manager, Marc van Heerden, says that Egan’s journey has been most remarkable. “Our staff members have been inspired by the bravery shown by this young hero and his family, who have gone to great lengths to find him the help he needed,” he adds.

“It is also most gratifying that, through the combined efforts of the medical professionals such as Dr Saman and the hospital, we are now able to offer a much needed cochlear service to our deaf patients from around the province,” concludes Van Heerden.

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