The story behind Landon Browne: The 7-year-old who honored his surgeon by dressing up as him for Halloween

Landon Browne and Dr. Jay Rubinstein

During a recent visit to Seattle Children’s, 7-year-old Landon Browne dressed up as his favorite surgeon, Jay Rubinstein, to honor and celebrate him at this Halloween time of year. We suspect you saw the related media coverage, and wanted to share more about Landon, who has captured the public’s interest.

There are landmark moments in every child’s life that a parent likes to document. The first time he rolls over, crawls, stands and walks are among the moments worth noting. But for Alysia and Brendan Browne, the moments they got really excited about for their son, Landon, relate to his hearing.

“When he said, ‘butter’ for the first time, I threw open the front door and yelled, ‘He said, butter!” The neighbors probably thought I was crazy,” Alysia said, with a smile.

Landon, now 7, was diagnosed with severe to profound hearing loss within weeks of being born. Technically, that meant that he was deaf. “We went through six weeks of what I call a ‘period of darkness,’” said Alysia. “I was rather inconsolable. We didn’t answer the phone. I was so afraid for his future.”

Little things that most new moms and dads take for granted—that you can soothe your baby with your own voice—also seemed impossible. “You wonder how you’re going to reach your baby,” Alysia said, reflecting on those early days.

Cochlear implants, early intervention alter a young boy’s life

Landon received his first cochlear implant at Children’s when he was 9 months old. His second surgery for an implant took place last summer. Jay Rubinstein, MD, PhD, conducted the surgeries for both of the implant procedures. A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that helps to provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf. The implant has an external portion that sits behind the ear and a second portion that is surgically placed under the skin.

In between the surgeries, the youngster took part in speech testing and cochlear implant tune ups at Children’s. He also enrolled in early intervention programs, including Listen & Talk, an educational support program established for children with hearing loss.

“Hearing is like a muscle you have to work,” said Alysia. “There’s an encyclopedia of sound that we all take for granted.”

She and her husband followed up on Landon’s care meticulously. If the speech therapist said a certain drill or word should be repeated 50 times, they would repeat it 100 times with Landon. Alysia plotted graphs of what a child who can hear is exposed to on a daily basis, and attempted to hit those marks with her son.

A mother’s dedication makes a difference

When Landon had his first sound processor, which is held in place with a magnet on the side of his head, Alysia was told that she should remove the processor while they were in the car. Landon might accidentally pull it off, or swallow the battery, or it could slide off on its own. But Alysia saw this as lost time in exposing her little boy to the learning environment in the car. She taught herself how to sew and created a special hat for Landon that would keep the processor in the correct place. “When you have an infant, you have to get creative,” she said.

The result has been nothing short of remarkable. “We went from being told he would have delays in learning and reading to now, where he is reading at the high school level,” said Alysia, who also recounted how she had been told by a therapist that her son was the deafest student in class at one point.

Audiologist Kerri Corkrum, who has worked with Landon from the start, said that he has made excellent progress. “His language is above age-appropriate,” she said. “He was wired for this, wired for sound.”

Overcoming the odds early on

Landon was reading by the time he was 2. He enjoys learning about science, architecture and Stephen Hawking, the English physicist, cosmologist and author at the University of Cambridge. When he was 3, he asked Alysia to read an electrical manual to him as a bedtime story. “It described how to connect electric circuitry,” she said.

He’s also very interested in music, makes his own stop-motion videos and is learning how to play the guitar. While he was healing from the second surgery, he performed on camera “La Seine,” a sophisticated, jazzy tune from the animated movie, “A Monster in Paris.”

Research holds promise for improving the sound of music

Landon’s musical future could get a boost from the latest research by Les Atlas, a University of Washington (UW) professor of electrical engineering, Rubinstein and members of their labs. The team has developed a new way of processing signals in cochlear implants to help users hear music better.

“Right now, implants are good at presenting rhythm, but it is pitch-less rhythm with lyrics,” Rubinstein said. Pitch is associated with the melody of a song. “It’s a real challenge for people with cochlear implants to sing, and to sing on key. Tuning a guitar is also a very rare skill.”

Rubinstein, who is also a UW professor of Otolaryngology & Bioengineering, said this latest research is still in the lab stages at this point, but it looks promising. He and Atlas also believe that hearing music may be linked to hearing speech better in noisy settings, another goal of their research. “Anything we develop for adults could work on a kid like Landon,” he said.

Alysia said that she was thrilled to learn about Rubinstein’s latest research. “Who wouldn’t want their child to experience the beauty of music?”

Watch the first episode of Landopedia, an encyclopedia created by Landon for YouTube. In this episode, he explores the word Fo’c’sle.

If you’d like to interview Dr. Rubinstein, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at [email protected].