A TEENAGE girl from Northwich with hearing difficulties is looking ahead to a better quality of life after receiving an innovative implant.

Born with a bilateral cleft lip and palate, Niamh Sullivan has been visiting Alder Hey Children's Hospital since she was just three months old.

Children with cleft palates, which can occur during development in the womb, often face issues with their middle ear, leading to associated hearing difficulties.

Now aged 13, Niamh underwent a three-hour procedure to insert a Vibrant Soundbridge implant into her ear, becoming the first patient to have this operation at Alder Hey.

The procedure was a success and in a video shared by the hospital, Niamh describes hearing a voice for the first time after the device was activated as 'amazing'.

She added: "It feels amazing to be able to hear by myself. Everything is so clear.

"I can wear my hair down for the first time now, as I had to wear it up for the external hearing aids to work.

"I want to say a big thank you to the ENT team who I’ve grown up with, they’ve been amazing."

Over the years, Niamh has had several operations for her condition, including having tubes, known as grommets, inserted into her ear.

These grommets help facilitate the draining of fluid from the middle ear, which can be disrupted due to a cleft palate.

The muscles of the palate play a crucial role in regulating airflow into the middle ear and draining fluids from it, but when disrupted, the accumulation results in temporary hearing impairment.

Chief audiologists Angela Pritchard and Auboney Dineen have seen Niamh at the hospital for many years.

Angela added: “When we turned on Niamh's device, six weeks after the operation, we were delighted by her reaction.

"We really hope this will improve her quality of life and help her to do all the things she loves."

After having numerous grommets and middle ear infections over the years, Niamh has previously had to wear bilateral bone conduction hearing devices on a softband to help with her moderate hearing loss.

Her consultant, ENT surgeon Mr Sunil Sharma, added: "The three-hour operation involved inserting the implant into the middle ear and attaching it to one of the bones in the middle ear (ossicles).

"The implant is known as a Vibrant Soundbridge and has an external processor that picks up sound waves and then sends them to the Vibrant Soundbridge implant.

"The implant turns the sound waves into mechanical vibrations which are amplified and get sent to the inner ear and then to the brain, just like in the normal hearing process.

"This type of device is implanted completely under the skin."

Already an avid fundraiser, raising money for Alder Hey and the teams who have looked after her, Niamh is also an aspiring baker and hopes to open her own bakery in the future.