By Harry Keaney
Countless Irish immigrants have arrived at New York’s JFK Airport with little but determination and a dream. But yesterday afternoon, William and Roisín Hillick, from County Westmeath, touched down with a heartfelt hope, not for themselves, but for their 7-year-old son, Matthew, who accompanied them.
When Matthew was only a few weeks old, he contracted meningitis, which caused him to lose his hearing.
"He was lucky he survived," said his aunt, Liz Keogh, who lives in Woodside, N.Y.
Now, it seems, doctors in New York may at last be able to return to him the gift he never remembers having.
The trip is particularly poignant for the Hillicks because doctors in Ireland didn’t offer much hope or encouragement that Matthew would regain his hearing, according to Keogh. Indeed, she said that, instead, doctors told the family Matthew was too old to have the surgery. And, she added, one doctor asked why they would have it done when Matthew already seemed so happy.
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But about a year ago, while reading the Daily News, Keogh saw an advertisement about cochlear implants, which restore hearing. Instantly, she thought of the possibilities for her nephew in Mullingar.
And so, events were set in motion that led to Matthew visiting New York University Hospital, where, two weeks ago, he had a cochlear device implanted in his ears. Afterward, he returned home to Mullingar; doctors advised that his familiar family surroundings might help the healing process. The Hillicks have four other children: Diane, 2; Alison, 4; James, 5, and Jennifer, 9.
Today, Wednesday, he will return to NYU Hospital to begin the process of having the device switched on.
"There’ll be a lot of prayers and candles tomorrow," Keogh told the Echo Tuesday.
Keogh described Matthew as "a happy child."
"He’s bubbly, really out there, a very, very happy child," Keogh said.
She added that he wonders about the scar on his head following the surgery two weeks ago. "He is wondering why they cut him but, hopefully, he will understand later," she said.
Although his parents are delighted by the possibility that Matthew will hear, the effort has been expensive. The cochlear device cost about $33,000 and, with fees for the surgery and follow-up visits and treatment, the family will be faced with a bill for tens of thousands of dollars.
"His parents had to remortgage their house," Keogh said.
A benefit to help the Hillicks defray their medical expenses will take place April 8 at 8 p.m. in The Wall, 54-20 Roosevelt Ave., in Queens. Grafton Travel is a major supporter of the event. Details, call Liz Keogh at (718) 672-7240.