A first of it's kind surgery in El Paso is evolving the readiness of the Army and helping veterans and military families with hearing loss recover their hearing.
Dr. Brian Chen at El Paso's William Beaumont Army Medical Center performed El Paso's first cochlear ear implant surgery in September on a 13-month old baby.
Zoella Hamilton was Dr. Chen's first patient in El Paso. Her mother, Ashley Hamilton, says Zoella was born deaf.
"Really if you are born without hearing this is probably the best chance at ever hearing," says Dr. Chen.
Hamilton says Zoella was born premature and failed every hearing test she was given.
"Finally we got the call saying a new doctor was going to be here in El Paso, Dr. Chen," says Hamilton.
Dr. Chen arrived to El Paso in August. Although Zoella's surgery was his first in El Paso, he says he has performed more than 40 cochlear ear implant surgeries at the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles.
"In the past, veterans that lost hearing due to age or noise exposure or kids who were born without hearing were sent to Tucson or San Antonio for these surgeries," says Dr. Chen. "Now that I'm here we are recapturing that population."
Dr. Chen says the device is implanted under the scalp, working like a magnet. "That device then has an electrode that then goes behind the ear and into an inner ear organ called the cochlea," says Dr. Chen.
Zoella's family says the surgery now gives their daughter a choice.
"If she does decide when she is older that she doesn't want to hear, she has the option of just taking them off and she doesn't hear anymore," says Hamilton.
Three months after her surgery, Zoella's next step is moving on from sign language to speech.
"I didn't want to fix her. I felt like I was trying to fix her and she doesn't need to be fixed. She is perfect the way she is," says Zoella's mom.
WBAMC officials say the surgery is available to veterans referred by the VA and to military and their families.
Dr. Chen says he expects to perform a second cochlear implant surgery in El Paso in the coming months.