Kenzi Cayton — a second-grader at Hockinson Heights Elementary School in Brush Prairie, Washington — is a busy kid. She loves baking, Girl Scouts, Blazers games, and just about anything to do with art.
Kenzi, 8, was also born profoundly deaf in both ears and wears MED-EL cochlear implants to help her hear.
Kenzi is among more than 200 children worldwide ages 6 to 12 who recently proposed inventions to improve quality of life for people living with hearing loss in MED-EL USA’s third annual International Ideas4Ears Hearing Loss Invention Contest. But her concept took home a grand prize: a cochlear implant that lets users automatically change the look of their implants with the click of a smartphone button.
Kenzi often finds herself changing the “skin” — or sticker-like cover — on her processor to match her moods and her clothes, but this takes time and planning; an implant covered with a screen-saver-like material and connected to an app full of preloaded design options would make switching things up a snap.
This summer, Kenzi and her mother, Kelli Cayton, are scheduled to travel to Innsbruck, Austria, to visit MED-EL’s international headquarters. There, Kenzi will meet other grand prize winners and young inventors and rub shoulders with MED-EL engineers and scientists.
She’s most stoked about spending time with other kids who wear cochlear implants.
“I like being around other kids with cochlear implants because they understand what it’s like to have them,” Kenzi explains. “No one asks questions about them, or stares at them, or thinks they look funny because we all wear them, and that makes me feel comfortable.”
If her concept is ever invented, Kenzi’s already got a wish list for the skins she’d like to see: “I definitely want to see a Blazers skin because they are my favorite sports team, an Eiffel Tower skin because I’m excited to see Paris, a cupcake skin because I love to bake, and a ring-tailed lemur skin because that’s my favorite animal,” she says.
Kenzi’s father, Chris Cayton, is also profoundly deaf, and he and Kelli are thrilled with their daughter’s big win.
“It’s been such a joy to watch her become an advocate for deaf people at such a young age,” says Kelli. “My husband and I are both incredibly proud of her and we can’t wait to see what amazing things she does next.”