Girl hears again with cochlear implant

11-year-old Briana Collings lost her hearing from meningitis in march. In August, Briana recieved an operation  which included coccular implant to restore her hearing.   photo by Rick Gunn

11-year-old Briana Collings lost her hearing from meningitis in march. In August, Briana recieved an operation which included coccular implant to restore her hearing. photo by Rick Gunn

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The Collings family may have seen hell this year. But in the process, they also glimpsed a piece of heaven.

In March, 11-year-old Briana Collings came down with a high fever and pounding headache that led to delirium.

Her parents, Brenda and Brian Collings, suspected the flu and brought her to a doctor. Her physician sent the family to Carson-Tahoe Hospital, where a Care Flight helicopter was waiting to fly her to Washoe Medical Center in Reno.

Doctors told her parents she had been diagnosed with meningitis and probably had 24 hours to live.

The little girl, who excelled in school, had a passion for dancing and was always smiling.

"It was like I was in a dream world," her mother, Brenda, said. "I thought I died. I was in my hell."

Briana survived the initial 24 hours. But doctors cautioned that her nose and legs would probably have to be amputated. But she recovered.

Still, Briana wasn't safe yet and her parents lived in a perpetual nightmare for two weeks while their daughter struggled to stay alive in the intensive-care unit.

At one point, a priest was called in to give the last rites.

"My husband, who never cries, was bawling his eyes out," Brenda said.

But, again, Briana beat the odds. She came out of her coma and seemed to be fine.

It was soon obvious, however, that things weren't fine.

At first, she could hear a little. Then her world went silent. She said it was like somebody turned the volume off.

"When you plug your ears, you can still hear something," Briana said. "But it's worse than that, you can't hear anything."

Without her hearing, Briana was sure she could never dance again -- which she'd enjoyed since she was 3 -- and was doubtful she could function in school.

But officials at Eagle Valley Middle School were quick to accommodate her disability, assigning her an aide, Neila.

Because Briana had suddenly become deaf, she could not use sign language. Instead Neila helps her by typing instructions and conversations on a computer screen.

But Briana was never completely helpless. She was a natural at reading lips and soon became proficient.

With the obstacle of school out of the way, she was ready to tackle the next: dance.

Through her illness, Briana found that dance was more than a hobby, it was her source of strength.

While she was in the hospital, her friends from dance sent her encouraging notes, visited her and even held prayer circles during practice.

Finding true friendship at any age can be difficult, but it is especially hard among preteen girls. However, about a dozen girls rallied to Briana's side while she was sick and were waiting for her when she returned.

Maggie Jesse, 12, held a slumber party soon after Briana's release from the hospital. Maggie said she never considered not inviting Briana or dissolving their friendship.

"I was really thankful that she was still alive and that she was still my friend," Maggie said. "She's really nice and she never complained about her hearing once."

Maggie provided notebooks so the girls could communicate. But they soon found Briana could read lips well enough not to need them.

They spent the night making food and choreographing their own dances.

When Briana returned to dance, they were there to help explain new steps and provide encouragement. To everyone's amazement, Briana never missed a beat, feeling the rhythm of the music through the thud of the bass and counting off her steps.

Six weeks ago, Briana was fitted with a cochlear implant, and two weeks ago it was turned on. Although she said voices sometimes sound like Mickey Mouse, she can hear again.

To celebrate, her friends' mothers all pitched in to rent a limousine to take the girls into Reno for dinner at Red Robin and a movie.

The staff at the restaurant were so impressed by Briana's story they went across the street to buy her balloons and flowers and sang for the girls.

Although her hearing will never be normal, her family is counting the small blessings.

"Every day I am so grateful," said Brenda, a hair stylist at Rapunzel's. "I go to bed at night with both my kids tucked in their beds and I wake up with both of them with me."

Briana's younger brother is Bryce. Their father owns Bri-Tech Appliance Service in Carson City.

Briana is also grateful to be alive.

"My mom looked meningitis up on the Internet and I saw all the things that could have happened to me," she said. "When I read all the other things, I felt really lucky."


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