CHARLOTTE, N.C. – At the age of 3, Grayson Clamp finally heard his first sounds last month – his father saying “Daddy loves you.”
Grayson’s face lit up with such an expression of surprise and delight that a video of the moment by University of North Carolina Hospitals went viral, garnering the Charlotte, N.C., family national attention.
They’ve been featured on Huffington Post, CBS, ABC and NBC’s “The Today Show,” and the family appeared on Fox and Friends and CNN’s “New Day!” The UNC video had been viewed on YouTube more than 960,000 times as of Thursday.
Grayson’s father, Len Clamp, said he wants to use the attention to share his son’s story – not just the “medical miracle” but the whole journey, from a foster child to adoptee to overcoming hurdles that include a failed cochlear implant. Clamp hopes Grayson’s experience inspires people to take a chance on bringing a new child into their lives.
“We just want to be an encouragement to families thinking about fostering, thinking about adopting,” Clamp said. “You just step out in faith and do it.”
In April, Grayson became one of the first children in the United States to receive an auditory brain-stem implant, and the first in a clinical trial at UNC Hospitals approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. A cochlear implant didn’t work for Grayson because he was born completely deaf and without the hearing nerves that connect the inner ear to the brain.
So doctors inserted an artificial connection including a device on the outside of Grayson’s head that acts like a microphone and can be taken off at any time.
It’s been about a month since the implant was turned on, and Clamp said Grayson is still learning to connect sound to meaning.
“He is a 6-week-old baby from a hearing standpoint,” Clamp said. “So what he’s got to first do is babble and hear his own voice, like an infant, and then go from babbling to talking.”
Craig Buchman, a surgeon at UNC Hospitals and one of Grayson’s doctors, said seeing Grayson’s reaction to the auditory implant was very gratifying.
“It was everything that we had hoped for,” Buchman said. “I think that’s the reason that we got involved in this back when we did. Our hope was we were going to be able to provide some sound information to a child who otherwise had no other hope.”
Grayson was born in December 2009 with a severe heart defect that required open-heart surgery immediately after birth. He spent his first weeks in the hospital until the Clamps became his foster parents in February, his father said.
Grayson was their fifth foster child through Carolina Family Connections, but the first they adopted.
“We pretty much knew that we were going to keep him,” Clamp said. “He didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
It took a large team of doctors to perform the brain-stem implant procedure, including a neurosurgeon and audiologist. But even with all the support, the brain-stem implant wasn’t an easy process – Grayson had to have part of the device repaired after the initial surgery.
“We spent almost a month in the hospital,” Clamp said. “He’s just always been a very resilient child, and so we came through that.”
Now, Clamp said, Grayson is doing very well.
“He’s really taken to this new introduction of sound,” he said. “I think he really enjoys it. He’s figuring out what to do with it, how to process it.”
Clamp said he hopes people will look at his family’s journey and feel encouraged to take a chance on things they might feel uncertain about.
“Step out, foster those children,” he said. “That’s what Jesus asked us to do anyways, and adopt if you think it’s the right thing for your family.
“And you might make history.”