A TODDLER who beat off a deadly strain of meningitis which left him deaf has been hailed a medical miracle after his hearing was successfully restored.
Little Liam Coughlan, from Shanakiel, Cork, lost his hearing in December after overcoming a severe form of meningitis. But three months later the nine-month-old became the youngest person in Ireland to have sound-restoring implants placed in both ears simultaneously.
Surgeons at Temple Street Hospital in Dublin acted quickly, fearing any delay in operating could leave him permanently deaf.
His parents Grace and John have since endured an agonising wait, wondering if their son would ever hear again, as surgeons told them they had to wait five weeks to allow his swollen ears to heal before turning the cochlear implants on for the first time.
John said the happiest moment of the year took place as the implants were switched on last week. On hearing his father's voice for the first time, Liam turned round and gave him a wonderful smile.
John (36) said the moment he found out Liam could hear again filled him with as much joy as the day his son was born.
Liam still faces a long road ahead, as he tries to decipher the meaning of strange sounds, including the unfamiliar voices of his parents and two-year-old sister Shannon's voices.
He will soon begin a five-year rehabilitation programme to learn how to speak properly and make up for the vital lost months of development denied to him when he lost his hearing.
John and fiancee Grace (32) say they feel confident for the first time since their son contracted meningitis that he will lead a normal and happy life.
"To say we're thrilled is an understatement," John said.
"It's hard to put into words just how happy and proud we are of Liam. We've had so much heartache over the past few months, but Liam has overcome all the obstacles and can now have a happy childhood like everyone else.
"He's just getting used to all kinds of noises at the moment. But he's looking fierce happy with himself and is more alert than ever.
"The past few days have been the happiest we've had as a family in months."
Surgeon Laura Viani, who runs the National Cochlear Implant Programme and who operated on Liam with fellow ear, nose and throat specialist Peter Walshe, also predicted a bright future.
"I'm delighted with how it went. There's now every chance he'll be able to join in mainstream education," she said.
Dr Viani is currently negotiating with the Department of Health to provide funding for bilateral simultaneous implants for all children, following the success of Liam's operation.