Topeka teen born deaf says she's lucky thanks to cochlear implants

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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW)- It was 14 years ago when 13 NEWS first met a baby girl named Reagan Emerson. She was born deaf.

"No one wants to have a child with that diagnosis, but we are glad there are technologies to overcome," says Allison Emerson, Reagan's mother.

At 9-months-old, Reagan was the youngest person ever to receive a cochlear implant to help her hear. She wore a pack on her back and a microphone on her head to help capture sound.

"The day Reagan's device was turned on was overwhelming. It's honestly been remarkable," says Allison.

"I have a magnet in my head and this attaches and I can hear. I wish I could just be normal and be like my friends," says Reagan.

Now 15-years-old, she runs for Shawnee Heights High School's Cross country team while wearing cochlear implants on both ears.

Reagan isn't alone. Topeka Ear Nose And Throat's Dr. Jason Meyers says about 75,000 people now use cochlear implants in the United States.

"It's an amazing process to a patient that you can take sound energy and convert it to electrical energy and the patient can receive meaningful sound," says Dr. Meyers.

Videos on social media have shown some of those people discovering sound for the first time.

"It made me emotional 'cause I can relate to it," says Reagan.

While Reagan herself doesn't remember a life without sound -last May, she experienced it when surgery to correct the wiring of her implant left her without her device for 2 weeks.

"It was really hard. It was emotional. I couldn't hear some things people were saying, so it was really, really hard," she says.

"Honestly, it kind of shook all of us that we rely on a device," says Allison.

Reagan can't hear all sounds. She says she hears 85% in one ear, 90% in the other. At cross country meets, she has trouble hearing the electric starter gun, so she says she looks at runner's feet.

"So I know when to start and when the gun is going off," Reagan says.

Looking back at her childhood, Reagan realizes how far she's come and her mother is especially proud as Reagan continues to lead the pack.

"Having hearing loss hasn't defined her, but how she has overcome hearing loss has been a tribute," says Allison.

"I'm really lucky," Reagan says.

Dr. Meyers also says all newborn babies receive a Universal Newborn Hearing Screening to detect hearing problems right away. Electrodes are hooked to a baby's head and this feeds data to a computer and the brain stem sends off a signal letting the nurses now if they can hear.