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      U.P. has Infant Audiology Center

      Portage Health Hospital is now the only certified Infant Audiology Center in the Upper Peninsula. The audiology center performs tests to diagnose hearing loss, and they now have equipment to perform follow-ups if needed.

      A law passed in 1997 requires all babies born in Michigan to be screened for hearing problems.

      "The babies are screened by nurses upstairs," said Audiologist Nancy Reed. "If they fail the hearing screen, they're rescreened. If they refer on that test, then they are seen here for diagnostic testing.

      Reed said that hearing loss is the most common birth defect in infants. Between one and three children out of 1,000 are diagnosed with congenital hearing loss.

      The test is called an Automated Auditory Brain Stem Response which tells the nurses whether the baby will pass or fail. When the infant is tested, they start at a comfortable level of sound which in no way hurts the infants' ears.

      "We put earphones in their ears to transmit the sound in, and we also hook up tiny sticky pads to their forehead and two behind their ears, said Audiologist Melissa Collard.

      With the new equipment in place, newborn babies, like Sophia, can keep a pacifier in their mouths and sleep through the process. The wireless equipment also cuts down on noise and transmits the information directly to the computer screen.

      "It's a big deal because it means that parents don't have to go long distances to get this follow-up testing," Reed said.

      Doctors say early detection in infants is important because it can help language and development skills later in life.