Weighing the Risks

"Key is adventuresome. She is an energetic kid who has always just loved life. She loves to swim, surfing, loves the ocean, doesn't seem to have any fears. Anything she does, she tackles full force," Katie says proudly, about her 11-year-old daughter.

"I love gymnastics," Key says.

"She's doing incredibly well," Katie says. "She's competed in the California Olympic games this summer, and she came in fifth all-around for her age group."


At the age of 5, Key was diagnosed with Enlarged Vestibular Aqueduct Syndrome. She has high-frequency hearing loss in both ears and may eventually lose all hearing. 

Key's father, Kevin, says, "It was a shock to realize there actually was something serious, and not only was it serious, it was progressive. The hardest aspect in dealing with this is the high probability that she is going to go totally deaf."

"We learned immediately that there are activities that could cause sudden, profound, total hearing loss in an instant, and that's what, I think, scared us the most," Katie says. "She has been very strong-minded, even with knowing full well what could happen, in terms of losing all her hearing. She wants to continue gymnastics. One of our biggest challenges now is, do we allow Key to continue in this sport?"

[AD]The tween declares, "I live my life like every day is worth it. I want to live a normal life: ride my bike, play outside. If I wasn't going to take the chance to be able to do sports, life wouldn't be that good."

"Is she old enough to be involved in making decisions for herself? To think that you're putting your child at risk for something as severe and profound as total deafness, is scary," Katie says.

"Even if there is the fact that I might lose all my hearing, I'm OK with it, because I know that's what's supposed to happen," Key says.

Even Key's doctors don't agree on what's best for Key, which is why Kevin and Katie turned to Dr. Phil for help.

Katie explains that they are currently allowing Key to participate in sports, even though earlier this year, Key started to lose more of her hearing.

Dr. Phil weighs the pros and cons.


Dr. Phil answers one of their questions. "Is she mature enough, at this point, to make this decision for herself, or to have major input into it? And the answer is unequivocally no. She just simply is not."

Dr. Phil explains that Key's brain is not done growing yet, and she doesn't have the ability to predict the consequences of her decisions. "She says, ‘Well, if I go deaf, I'm just supposed to.' She doesn't understand what that means. And so, as determined as she is, as stubbornly committed as she is, I have to say, if you want my opinion, she can't get much of a vote in this. I'm sorry, she just doesn't have the ability to predict the consequences of her actions. She doesn't know what it means to ever live without hearing music again. She doesn't know what it means to have to rely on light signals when someone comes to the door.


[AD]"Does that mean she shouldn't have any input? No, you have to take into consideration her personality. If you take this away from her, she could get depressed, she could get despondent, she could become rebellious," he says. "Children look at concrete, short-term consequences. This makes her feel good this week. And that compared to an abstract long-term goal, no comparison, she's going to go for this every time because she doesn't appreciate that."

Dr. Phil shares the consensus from his advisory board and where the parents should go from here.


Dr. Phil says he never asks his guests to substitute his judgment for their own. He asks them to weigh his opinion. "I would clearly opt to protect this child. I would not allow her to do high-risk behavior, such as gymnastics, until such a time as I had fully vetted her viability for cochlear implants, and unless and until I had her fully prepared to function in a non-auditory world," he says. 

He recommends they try to redirect her into less risky activities, like music or art.

"We appreciate your frankness," Katie says.

Key and her 9-year-old little sister, Taylor, join Dr. Phil onstage.

Taylor tells Dr. Phil, "I feel that this is something that God has put into lives to make us stronger."

"Out of the mouths of babes," Dr. Phil says.

Key tells Dr. Phil that she didn't want to learn sign language at first. "I really had faith that I wasn't going to lose all my hearing."

"I certainly hope that's the case," Dr. Phil tells her, "but I'm one of those people who believes that you prepare for the worst, and you hope for the best. If that was to happen, don't you think it would be a good idea to be prepared, so you could communicate?"

"Yes, it would," Key says.

Dr. Phil tells the little girl she could experiment for a few days by wearing headphones that block out all sound, so she can start to learn what life will be like if she does lose her hearing.

[AD]Key says she also knows about the possibility of the cochlear implant, which would restore her hearing.

"You understand that when you're 11, you really shouldn't make all the decisions, right?" Dr. Phil asks.

"I know. I kind of leave some of it up to my parents," she says.

Dr. Phil laughs.


Should Key's parents allow her to participate in her passion " gymnastics " even though it puts her at risk for becoming suddenly deaf? 

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