3 Michigan sisters undergo same life-changing operation on the same day

'They're going in holding hands,' their mother says

By Sarah Mayberry, M.P.H. - Producer

NOVI, Mich. - It's a rare situation, to say the least: three young sisters needing the same surgery and a hospital willing to make it happen on the same day.

But that's exactly what's the Sturm family, of Berrien Springs, Michigan, faced one morning in June.

Sara and Levi Sturm have five children. Their middle three -- Quinn, 9, Riley, 6, and Evie, 5 -- were born with varying degrees of hearing impairment.

Hearing aids helped, but over the years, the girls' hearing loss has gotten worse, and this summer, the family decided the time had come to pursue some high-tech help.

As they arrived at Ascension Providence Hospital, in Novi, the girls were quiet.

"A little nervous? That's to be expected," said Dr. Candice Colby, their surgeon. "Everything is going to be great. Today is the big day."

Each of the girls was getting a cochlear implant.

"A cochlear implant is a surgically implanted electronic device that allows people to hear sounds they may not otherwise hear with hearing aids," Colby said.

The sisters all have a genetic form of hearing loss called enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome.

"They have, over the years, progressively lost their hearing," Sara Sturm said. "It just kind of came about where everything fell into place at the same time, and they're getting them done together."

It's a first for their surgeon.

"Never done three at a time like this, no. It's pretty rare," said Colby. "I'm really excited to do this with them. This is going to change their lives completely. I think they are going to hear sounds that they may have never heard before. They're going to have easier communication."

That's exciting for Quinn.

"I'll be able to hear my friends, my teacher, my family when they come over. I'm going to be able to hear," she said.

Evie is first into the operating room. She's the youngest but has the most severe hearing loss.

"Around Christmastime, over Christmas vacation actually, I'm like, 'Something's going on. She can't -- she's not answering us anymore.' And she had basically lost all of her hearing in both ears actually," Sara Sturm said.

There is a family history of deafness. Levi Sturm's grandparents on his mother's side were both born deaf. His parents were born with hearing but lost it as children -- his father from scarlet fever and his mother after falling down stairs.

The family uses sign language to help communicate, but it's been challenging at times.

"How do you talk to your child once you can no longer have them hear you? You know, it can be a scary situation," Levi Sturm said.

They hope the girls will argue less after they have their cochlear implants. Right now, they often misunderstand what the other is trying to say.

Then, there are the little things.

"I'm really excited to be able to be like, 'Oh, did you hear that bird, or do you like this song?' Sara Sturm said. "I'm very excited for them to be able to share things that I have experienced that they haven't, and I'm really excited to see how this opens up the world to them."

In the operating room, Evie's cochlear implant is in place.

"Everything went well. The implant went completely in as expected," Colby said.

Up next is Riley.

The Sturms have no doubts that doing the surgeries on the same day was the right decision.

"They're going in holding hands and you know, being brave for each other," Sara Sturm said.

But with Evie in recovery and Quinn waiting to go in, the enormity of what's happening is hitting home.

"Honestly I'm not trying to think too much about the surgery in itself. I'm thinking about what it's going to do for them," Sara Sturm said.

Finally, it's Quinn's turn. But first, she wants an update on her sisters.

"Evie and Riley, they both did great. The implant is in and it looks perfect," Colby said.

Three sisters, three surgeries and, for this family -- the start of a new chapter.

"I think for them it's going to be something they are going to look back on and say, 'Remember that time we all did this together?'" said Levi Sturm. "They're exited to be doing this together."

This really is just the beginning. It takes a few weeks for the girls to heal, then the cochlear implants will be turned on and that's when the family will see just how much better the girls will be able to hear.

Tune in to Local 4 at 5 p.m. Monday to see that special moment for each of the girls.

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