Against the odds: Lake search recovers deaf teen's cochlear implant

Monday, June 11, 2018
Bill Sankey, a sheriff's deputy and BV Dive Team member, with Shelby Struthers, after the team volunteered and successfully recovered the Alta teen's cochlear implant device from the lake June 2.
Photos submitted

An Alta teen is able to hear today because of a miraculous underwater recovery.

Shelby Struthers, 16, was swimming June 1 at Awaysis Beach in Storm Lake when she lost a cochlear implant processor device in the water around 15-20 feet off shore. She had forgotten to attach a safety tether for the hearing device to her clothing.

Her mother, Staci Struthers, put out a frantic plea on social media, hoping someone might find the small device. Few would recognize what such an implant would look like, and she feared that if it was found, it might just be discarded into a trash can.

The plea spread like wildfire. The response was immediate as volunteers began combing the beach and shoreline, bringing out metal detectors, or wading into the lake in hopes of finding Shelby's device. But as the hours wore on, even her family lost hope.

"We didn't think we would find it, or if someone did, we doubted that it could still work after being in the lake for 24 hours," Staci Struthers said. "That evening we said, we're done, we're giving up."

But later that night, they got a call from Jason Hoffman, the city parks director, who also happens to be a part of the law enforcement dive team that was formed for rescue and recovery missions. Hoffman had heard of the lost cochlear implant, and called the team to begin strategizing for a search that could double as training for the team.

"We'll give it one more shot," the family reacted.

Against all odds, the divers located the device in the lake the next day, not far from where Shelby Struthers pointed them. The rubber protective sleeve she used to keep the device dry while swimming was still in place, and when tested, it still worked perfectly.

The family was amazed by the response to their dilemma.

"We were extremely overwhelmed by all the help we received in trying to find Shelby's processor and in all the kind words and prayers sent our way," Staci Struthers said. "We feel very blessed to live in a community with so many who care and are willing to go the extra mile."

Shelby Struthers was born with substantial hearing loss, which continued to decline. For a year, the family tried hearing aids, but at age 3, chose to move Shelby to cochlear implants.

"If she is not wearing it, she is completely deaf," Staci Struthers explained. Clients must be trained in how to listen with a cochlear implant, but the devices are so technologically advanced now that calls to Shelby Struthers' cellphone connect directly to her implant through Bluetooth technology, and TV signals are streamed automatically into it. "It allows the deaf to be in the hearing world," Staci says.

They also are expensive, and a replacement must be "mapped" and serial numbered individually for each client, so the family was as relieved as they were surprised at the recovery.

Don't expect the scare to keep Shelby Struthers out of the water, however. "She's a fish, she's always been a child who loves and lives in the water," her mother said. "At least now the pool is open, so if she loses her implant in the water, she would be able to see it."

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