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Designing a Sound Future for Percy

Coamplifying creative answers for kids with cochlear implants

On their second night in the hospital, Meghan Carey and Sean Wilkinson of Portland, Maine, learned that their newborn baby, Percy, couldn’t hear.

The year that followed was filled with tests and medical appointments, leading to a diagnosis of profound deafness. For children who are profoundly deaf, hearing aids are not often a viable option. To give Percy the sense of hearing, the family decided that cochlear implants were the right path forward.

Meghan, Percy and Sean, with their pediatric ear surgeon Dr. Michael Cohen. Photo by Kari Herer.

Around his first birthday, Percy received bilateral cochlear implants at Mass. Eye and Ear. His surgeon was Michael S. Cohen, MD, Director of the Pediatric Hearing Loss Clinic at Mass. Eye and Ear.

“It was a lot to go through as new parents,” Meghan said. “We were lucky to have the incredible team in Boston.”

Today, Percy is four. He loves to talk, sing and listen to music. Meghan says he also has a penchant for making up “wacky stories.”

“We’re having a blast watching him grow and learn. He’s such an amazing little boy.”

Clothing and learning tools designed for little bionic ears

That first winter in New England, an idea occurred to Meghan. Putting a winter hat on Percy — and getting it to stay put — was a struggle. So, she and Sean tapped into their design backgrounds and came up with a solution.

“We had a hard time keeping any hat on Percy’s head when he was first implanted – one year olds are so squirmy!” she explained. “Also, cochlear implants require a magnetic connection to the internal device, so all that squirming tended to knock the equipment off.”

Meghan’s first design: a winter hat that stays put on kids with cochlear implants. Photo by Kari Herer.

With help from her mother, Meghan set to work on designing a winter hat to keep Percy warm. The resulting product has ear flaps for extra warmth, a snap closure under the chin for a secure fit and, most importantly, a snug pocket lined with thin material to slide the receiver into. The material allows for sound information to continue to be received by the cochlear implant.

Launching Coamplify

The hat was a big hit with Percy, and Meghan and Sean knew that they had to share this, along with the many other products that they’d like to create for this very special population. They turned to crowdfunding for help, and soon after, Coamplify was born.

In addition to the innovative winter hats, they have designed a wooden animal play set to assist parents, audiologists and teachers with language learning for kids with hearing loss.

“We’ve had a lot of hurdles and obstacles along the way, and we realized that perhaps other parents could benefit from what we’ve learned,” Meghan said.

Meghan, Sean and Percy present Coamplify at Dr. Cohen’s annual Pediatric Hearing Loss Carnival at Mass. Eye and Ear.

But the hats and play sets are just the beginning. Meghan and Sean have plenty of other ideas that they can’t wait to get started on.

“We’re excited to continue to learn as Percy grows, and to keep creating new products that support kids like him,” Meghan said. “It’s important to us to make these kids’ lives more fun, and to make their parents’ lives a little easier.”

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