Relieved and happy: 4-year-old’s stolen hearing devices returned

Memorial Day was a memorable one for a Columbus mother. Parts for an ear implant device that helps her 4-year-old deaf, autistic son hear — removed from Laura Coate’s car nearly two weeks earlier — were returned.

Coate said two women rang her doorbell about 6 p.m. Monday. When she opened the door, the women said they had something for her and handed Coate a trash bag. Inside it was a white pillow case that contained parts for the cochlear implant that her son Sora had received recently.

“I am still in shock,” Coate said.

The mother said she didn’t expect the parts to be returned at all, and when she was handed the bag she feared the parts might be broken.

“I was so relieved and happy,” Coate said.

The women — one who appeared to be in her early 20s and the other in her late 20s — seemed like nice people and didn’t seem to be involved in the theft, Coate said. They explained that through the grapevine they heard somebody talking about the theft and decided they would try their best to get the parts back to her, Coate said.

Matt Harris, public information officer for the Columbus Police Department, said he received a message from Coate on Monday saying the parts had been returned. The police department had been working to find the missing parts and had been fielding calls from the public with offers of assistance for the mother.

Coate had gone to her car on the morning of May 18 to retrieve a backpack that contained important parts for a cochlear implant for Sora. The boy had recently received the implant for his left ear.

When she arrived at the vehicle, she noticed that the rear passenger window was smashed in and the car ransacked. Among the missing items was the backpack which contained parts such as a waterproof processor, batteries, a charger, a remote for the volume and a drying kit.

Since the theft, Coate has been improvising to make sure Sora — who also has a cochlear implant in his right ear — can hear from both ears. She has non-waterproof processors for both ears, but has had to use batteries and the charger for the right ear to make the left ear implant functional. That works for about half the day before the batteries wear down and he can’t wear the implants in either ear.

Coate had been working with Hear Indiana, a nonprofit organization that provides resources to families of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, to determine what help might be possible from the company that made the ear implant.

The waterproof processor, which costs about $8,000 and allows Sora to hear while he is swimming, is covered under a one-time replacement warranty. However, the other parts are not covered. Hear Indiana had been working with Advanced Bionics to determine the cost to replace the parts, which were estimated to be about $1,000.

But now it appears that won’t be necessary.

“It looks like everything is intact. Everything is in the boxes they came in and looks pretty pristine,” Coate said.

Coate said she still needs to test the parts and plans to contact her son’s audiologist to double-check that all the parts that came with the kit were returned.

The backpack that held the ear-implant parts, a purse, a DVD player and a special stuffed animal that was part of the ear implant kit were not returned, but Coate said the most important items were.

Have a tip?

Anyone with a tip about the theft of the stolen cochlear implant parts can call Columbus Police Department at 812-376-2600. Tips may be left anonymously.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.