James Madison University

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CSD Graduate Students Travel to Wise, Virginia to Provide Hearing Aid Fittings

By Amanda Rivera
4/5/06

PHOTO: Hearing Aid FittingView Photo Album from the Trip

“It was a weekend full of hugs, kisses, and tears,” says James Madison University audiology student Kara Norcross about the recent trip taken by the Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) department to fit 150 people with hearing aids in Wise, Virginia. Participants included Clinical Instructor Dr. Claire Jacobson along with thirteen audiology students: Kate Belzner, Sara Billari, Erika Cole, Kim Croteau, Jennifer Goldman, Lori Hanline, Lisa Mages, Candace Thorp, Kara Wright and second-timers Rebecca Barrett, Ashleigh McCombs, Kara Norcross and Jeannette Sadler. People from all over Virginia and neighboring states came to receive hearing aids, hearing tests and auditory brainstem response (ABR) testing. Many of them, coal miners or ex-coal miners who lack the financial means to acquire proper health care, would go medically untreated without the support of Remote Area Medical (RAM).

Grouped in pairs of two, students fit up to four to five people at a time with “Behind-the-Ear” hearing aids with custom-made earmolds bought from the Starkey Hearing Aid Foundation through donations made by the Lion’s Club. After each patient was fit, they were taught how to use their hearing aid and how to take care for it; changing the batteries and cleaning the device. With each fitting, the students found this a very emotional experience for all involved. Kara says, “I fit a woman in Wise that started crying as soon as I turned her hearing aid on. She explained to me that everyone has always thought of her as dumb because she has to ask them to repeat things or because she doesn't laugh at their jokes when she doesn't hear them. Now she's hoping she won't have to ask people to repeat what they've said and she'll be the first one to laugh at a joke.”

Along with hearing aid fittings, students performed various hearing tests on patients. Hearing evaluations were done to ensure that the fitted hearing aids met the needs of each individual patient. These tests were also performed to look for any greater audiologic concerns. If this was the case, patients were given an ABR test. The ABR test measures the electrical energy flowing along the auditory pathway. Patients who were found to have extended needs, such as someone with Acoustic Neuroma, were not fitted for hearing aids, but instead referred to a doctor for further evaluation. However, many left with hearing aids and a restored vitality. “Some of the memorable moments for me were when one of the patients was crying and saying "I got my hearing aids! I can hear again!"; when the grandmother could hear her grandchildren say "I love you"; watching a wife hug and kiss her husband when he got his hearing aids and knowing how much their improved communication will improve their relationship,” says Dr. Jacobson.

It was not only the patients that left with something that they had not previously had at the beginning of this experience. “This is the type of trip that makes me really remember why it is that I am in this field. So often we get into the daily routine and forget to look at things that really matter, and helping people is really what it’s all about!” says student Rebecca Barrett. CSD professor Dr. Jacobson was also very pleased with the students’ efforts. She says that she really appreciated “the students who gave up their weekend time they would have used to study for comps and who worked 12 hour days without one complaint…The whole experience made my heart feel so full of pride and love for the students and hope for our friends in Wise, VA.”