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Little Erikson Castro has never heard the sound of birds chirping or his mother laughing. The 6-year-old boy from Honduras was born deaf and his family is too poor to afford a cochlear implant that would enable him to join the hearing world.
A new St. Paul foundation is trying to change that. Tonight, the Help Me Hear Foundation is sponsoring a benefit concert to raise money for a cochlear hearing implant for Erikson and other deaf children living in poverty.
Several bands will perform at the Fine Line Music Cafe in downtown Minneapolis.
"This is our first, big attempt to raise funds," said Brent Lucas, 26, a law student at Hamline University and co-founder of the Help Me Hear Foundation.
He said he learned about Erikson from a clinic in Ohio. Brian Smith, director of strategic project development at the Cleveland Clinic, contacted him and asked for help.
Smith, who also sits on the board of directors for a nonprofit organization called Helping Hands for Honduras, had been visiting the village his group sponsors last year and came across an unforgettable boy.
"I was intrigued by Erikson right away, because, just by the fact that if he was in the U.S. it would have been pretty straightforward. He wouldn't have gone this long without being able to hear," Smith said.
Erikson lives with his parents and siblings in a hut near the village, known as Villa de San Francisco. He does not attend school and he communicates with his family through a sign-language system he developed on his own, Smith said.
For years, the parents have been saving for medical help for their son, but it is simply too costly, Smith and Lucas say.
"This is a family that probably lives on $200 a month," Smith said. "They live on a very small garden patch where they basically grow their own food."
In the United States the cost for a cochlear implant, including the surgery and follow-up therapy, runs from $60,000 to $100,000, Lucas said.
In Erikson's case, the plan now is to have the cochlear implant shipped to Sao Paulo, Brazil, where doctors who are volunteers with the Help Me Hear Foundation would perform the surgery.
Then the boy and his family would return to Honduras for therapy. "If we can get him to the point where he can distinguish sounds and hear music, he'll proceed on the track he's been on since birth, which is to make the best of what he has," Smith said.
The cochlear implant doesn't restore hearing completely. The implant bypasses damaged parts of the inner ear and electronically stimulates the hearing cells or nerves. Adults who have lost their hearing and then had the cochlear implants report that speech sounds muffled and squeaky, like Donald Duck speaking.
Erikson will be 7 in November; his supporters say they're aiming to help him leave his world of silence before he turns 8.
"The ultimate issue is, how can this child provide for himself in the future?" Smith said. "Can he work, can he marry, can he provide for his family?"
His nonprofit focuses on getting medical help for children with congenital heart defects, a life-threatening situation. "Right away we deal with a lot of congenital heart defects. But Erikson's issue really is an emergency, too," Smith said. "It's just unfolding over a period of time."
Allie Shah • 651-298-1550.