Personal Stories

Helping Myself to Help Others

By Ryan Brown

My hearing loss was identified around the time I started kindergarten. I started asking “what?” a lot, and I didn’t always respond to those around me. Some of my teachers thought I was ignoring them or missing instructions on purpose. At home I began to sit closer to the TV with the volume up high.

Subtle behaviors like this in a child can sometimes go undetected, much like those of a student who struggles because he can’t read the board in the classroom. Thankfully, a teacher finally noticed that I was reading her lips and recommended that I see a speech-language pathologist. Eventually, I was referred to an audiologist, Sheila Klein, Au.D. She diagnosed me with moderate to severe bilateral hearing loss, most likely caused by recurrent ear infections when I was younger.

My mom distinctly remembers leaving Dr. Klein’s office with my new hearing aids. After we walked out the door into the parking lot, I took a few steps, stopped and looked around, then walked a few more. This was the first time I heard my jacket make a whoosh sound as I moved. I spent a lot of time that day hearing new things I had never noticed before.

Soon after that, Dr. Klein came to visit my school. She explained to my classmates what it means to have a hearing loss and why I needed hearing aids. I really appreciate this gesture  because it encouraged my classmates to be more accepting of someone who was different than them.

One of my favorite hobbies is music, and hearing aids have been instrumental to helping me understand and practice it. I enjoy creating electronic songs using a production software called Ableton, which provides a means of arranging music as well as a visual representations of sound waves. This tool is crucial because there are certain frequencies I simply cannot hear, and people without hearing loss may hear harsh noises that disrupt the sound I was aiming for. This feature allows me to filter those sounds out visually. Without my hearing aids, I would have a hard time noticing these details in the final product.

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I am in my third year of medical school, pursuing a career in Emergency Medicine. I spend most of my days assisting and learning from physicians at hospitals and clinics. The purpose of this training is to eventually be able to practice and treat patients on my own.

My aspiration to work in medicine came about during junior year of high school, when I sought help from my local Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) office. VR counselors provide career assistance to people with disabilities. Medicine requires one to use a stethoscope, so the VR counselors found an electronic stethoscope and headphones I could fit over my hearing aids. The headphones can be confusing for patients sometimes, but they understand once I start listening to their heart and lungs.

I’ve really enjoyed learning about the art and science of medicine. Problem solving and building a trustworthy relationship with a patient are crucial skills which I will continue to develop for the rest of my life.

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The impact my hearing aids have had in my development cannot be understated, but communication is still difficult at times even with them in. I have learned to be patient and understand that not everyone knows what it’s like to have hearing loss or wear devices like hearing aids. Sometimes there is a need for others to speak up or face me so that I can read their lips, especially in crowded places. Having to overcome challenges like this has instilled an important trait that is essential in medicine: empathy.

Ryan William Brown is a student at the University of North Dakota School of Medicine.

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How Ménière's Led Me to a Master’s

By Anthony M. Costello

Ménière's disease initially presented itself to me 20 years ago in a violent and unfortunate manner. I was 16 attending a New England boarding school when I experienced a vestibular (balance) episode, and it changed my health and life forever.

I remember vividly the vertigo that, without warning, controlled me. I remember the incredible pressure and fullness in my ears and the overwhelming sense of nausea. Realizing I could not stand I sought refuge in my bed, where the sensation of spinning intensified and I vomited profusely.

The school staff could only assume I was intoxicated and took disciplinary action. As I could not yet explain or understand that my behavior was caused by Ménière's disease, I had little recourse to justice. Faced by more unfair treatment, I left the school at the end of the academic year.

For the remainder of high school, I continued to struggle with bouts of vertigo, dizziness, and imbalance. These symptoms impacted my athletic performance, my ability to concentrate on my schoolwork, and my general quality of life. It was a difficult and confusing time as I appeared fine on the outside but I was internally battling a miserable existence that I could not fully understand or control. That paradox has since defined my life.

Shutterstock

Shutterstock

When I received a formal diagnosis, my thoughts, priorities, and routines obsessively revolved around managing my wellness. This new mindset made it difficult to relate to the life I once had or to the lives of those around me. I made great efforts to hide my symptoms and protect loved ones from the negative emotional and physical effects of my disease. I made excuses to avoid social events just because of my illness.

Ménière's disease has repeatedly left me in states of hopeless despair. While it can be perceived as “strong” to persevere through one’s condition independently, I have learned this only leads to more isolation. Ménière's takes so much from its sufferers; it attacks their bodies, tests their spirits, and consumes their thoughts. This is why it is so important to reach out, be honest, and bring others into your world that you trust while you are living with Ménière's. Otherwise, you deprive yourself of not only your health but the relationships you deserve.

The etiology of Ménière's disease remains scientifically disputed and I do not claim to have the answer. But I do know the condition does not respond well to stress. I’ve spent every day of my life carefully crafting my decisions and actions based on how my Ménière's may react. In the process, I’ve come to master handling and mitigating stress. In fact, at 30 I went back to school for a master’s in psychotherapy in part to study stress and the human mind. I now licensed psychotherapist, a career change inspired by my conversations with newly diagnosed Ménière's patients in the waiting room of my ear, nose, and throat doctor’s office.

I have been fortunate to have had periods of relative remission with reduced vertigo. But there is a misconception that Ménière's just comes and goes, allowing the sufferer to return to normalcy in the interim. In reality, part of it is always there, be it the tinnitus, the difficulty hearing people in a crowded room, or the feeling the floor will start moving. There is always the uncertainty of what tomorrow will bring.

Using mindfulness—a meditation technique that helps one maintain in the present without judgment—has been helpful in calming my anxiety. Mindfulness is especially useful when my tinnitus feels overwhelming, and I sometimes I combine the practice with music, a white noise machine, or masking using a hearing aid.

I try to live my life in a manner in which Ménière's never wins. This disease will bring me to my knees—both literally and figuratively—but I just keep getting up. You can’t think your way out of this disease and spending all your time in a web of negative thoughts can be as toxic to your mind as Ménière's is to your inner ears. In my hopelessness, I try to stop my mind from plunging into the abyss and use every tool I can—making plans see friends and family, finding glimpses of joy in the midst of darkness, or being physically active. You have to retain some control when you feel like you have none.

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The only gift that Ménière's has given me is a level of introspection and awareness that I could not have attained in 10 lifetimes. It has stripped me down to my core and forced me to explore what is truly important and made me a better person. I don’t know who I would be without this disease, but I’m positive that person could not fathom the joy or gratitude I find in a moment of health.

Anthony M. Costello, LMFT, lives in Byfield, Massachusetts with his wife, daughter, and 2 dogs. He has a private practice and specializes in helping others with chronic illness. For more, see www.costellopsychotherapy.com.

Receive updates on life-changing hearing and balance research, resources, and personal stories by subscribing to HHF's free quarterly magazine and e-newsletter.

 
 
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Redefined Justice

By Casey Dandrea

Bob Downs was 18 years old when he received his first hearing loss diagnosis. Heading home from school one afternoon, he wandered curiously into an audiology clinic offering free hearing tests and agreed to take one. The audiologist informed him he had a substantial hearing loss and would benefit from hearing aids sold by the clinic. Skeptical and not willing to purchase hearing aids, Bob declined the treatment.

More than a decade later, Bob was driving his five-year-old son, Timmy, home from school when he discovered his distress coming from the back seat. Timmy was crying because his throat was in pain from him screaming at his father. “He was desperately trying to get me to hear him talk about his day at school, but I couldn’t hear him,” Bob said.

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Being unable to hear Tim encouraged Bob to take his hearing health more seriously and get another test. The new test results showed a hearing chart like the one presented to him as a teenager in the audiology clinic, but a lot worse. Bob has now been wearing hearing aids for 18 years.

Professionally, Bob’s hearing loss created some unexpected challenges. Shortly after he purchased his first pair of hearing aids, Bob worked in the call center of a large medical organization. His hearing loss combined with office background noise made it difficult for him to use the phone to schedule patient appointments, even with a telecoil feature for his hearing aids. The hectic environment of a medical office also made it challenging for Bob to communicate with colleagues and patients face-to-face. It was here that Bob first became highly aware of his professional limitations caused by hearing loss.

Bob was disappointed when his employer failed to provide proper workplace accommodations for his hearing loss. He brought the issue to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—the federal agency enforces civil rights laws for employees with disabilities—but never received justice from his former employer. His former employer actually denied Bob’s hearing loss, leaving him disheartened and deeply offended.

Discouraged by this legal outcome and required to tend to an urgent family emergency, Bob resigned from his call center position at the medical clinic to return to clerical work, a previous and familiar area of expertise. Bob faced similar obstacles in this line of work, too, and felt as if he were no longer able to contribute to the support of his family. “I was constantly paranoid about failing to hear my boss or a doctor or a technician calling after me from behind and would not be able to see that they were talking to me,” Bob recalls.

Bob realized a new profession—one involving less listening—may benefit him. He returned to college and earned his Associates Degree in 2013, where he is currently working toward his Bachelor’s degree in User Experience (UX) Design, which involves coding to improve people’s interactions with technology.  

Bob’s focus in UX Design is the Web Accessibility Initiative - Accessible Rich Internet Applications (WAI-ARIA), an interface that defines a way to make web content and web applications more accessible to people with disabilities. The typical functionality used in websites is not available to those who rely on screen reading or cannot use a computer mouse. Bob wishes to expand the usage of the required technical code specifications, making more web applications accessible to people with disabilities.

Although Bob was once reluctant to accept his hearing loss diagnosis, he’s proud to understand and advocate for the benefits of hearing loss treatment today. He urges other folks not to ignore their difficulties hearing or, worse, an audiogram showing a profound hearing loss, as he did at 18.  

Bob’s ability to remain persistent through discrimination and career changes is also commendable. Though Bob was unable to receive justice for the inequality he personally faced in his former workplace, he’s now creating his own form of justice for disability access through his newfound career.

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Facing the Music

By Joe Mussomeli

Every family has holiday traditions—ours is to visit New York City. For the past five years, my mom, dad, and brother, Alex, have committed a single hour drive to experience the magic of the greatest city in the world during Christmas time. When we arrive each December, Alex and I are in awe of the magical sight of neon Christmas lights covering Radio City and the giant tree in Rockefeller Center. Despite our fascination with the city’s holiday decor, nothing we see outside compares to the highlight of our annual tradition, attending a musical performance on Broadway.

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Our first musical, Annie, was an incredible experience for our family, but it was difficult for Alex. Born with a hearing loss, Alex uses a hearing aid and cochlear implant. Though his devices have greatly helped him over the years, there are some situations where their benefits are limited. While watching  Annie, Alex had trouble understanding some of the lines that the actors were saying, missing every few words spoken. As a result, he couldn’t grasp the full context of the story or make sense of the audience’s reactions. Whenever the audience laughed, Alex would laugh along with them. He laughed knowing that he had missed a word, had lost a sentence, and didn’t catch the joke.

Alex followed this copycat formula for the next few Broadway plays we attended. When we saw The Lion King, he was amazed by the costumes and the bright lights, but he couldn’t hear Timon and Pumbaa singing “Hakuna Matata.” The beautiful music in Aladdin delighted Alex, but he didn’t pick up on Jafar calling Aladdin a “diamond in the rough.” After we saw Aladdin, I asked Alex if he enjoyed the musical. He told me that he did, but felt as if viewing the show was like trying to complete a project without all the tools. For Alex, the musical was a puzzle and he had lost a few pieces while assembling the final product.

Last December, my family and I watched our newest musical, Dear Evan Hansen, and it was Alex’s favorite so far. We arrived at the theater happy to know there was  a closed captioning option for guests with hearing loss. Weeks before, my parents had called the captioning company that provides services for Broadway musicals and reserved a closed captioning device for Alex. He was given a small tablet and was told that the actors’ lines would appear on the tablet as they were spoken. Minutes later, the musical began, and Alex was just as invested in the show as the rest of the audience. Now, he could understand everything that was happening on stage! It was an enlightening experience for him. He understood every sentence, took in every word, and laughed at every joke, and not for the sake of laughing along to fit in, but because he got the joke. When we finished the musical I turned to Alex and asked him if he liked it. He replied with three words: “I loved it.” Finally, Alex had completed his puzzle with ease.

Joe Mussomeli is a 10th-grade student who lives in Westport, CT. His younger brother, Alex, has been featured in Hearing Health magazine and is a participant in HHF’s “Faces of Hearing Loss” campaign.

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Miracle Moments

By Casey Dandrea

Virginia toddler Charlotte (Charly)’s first experiences with sound using hearing aids captivated millions. The video, taken in 2017 when Charly was an infant, aired across multiple local television networks and went viral on the internet.

Photo credit: Christy Keane (   @    theblushingbluebird   )

Photo credit: Christy Keane (@theblushingbluebird)

Charly’s mother, Christy Keane, is heard fighting back tears in response to her daughter’s expressions. “I’ve never seen that face before. You’re going to make me cry,” Christy says as Charly displays a smile and her eyes light up. For the first time, Charly was visibly reacting to Christy’s voice.

Charly’s one-minute viral video debut was more than heartwarming—it was educational. With technology, children born with hearing loss can communicate just like those with typical hearing.

Christy’s understanding of profound hearing loss before Charly’s diagnosis was minimal. “I had never met a deaf person in my life and had absolutely no knowledge on hearing loss or intervention options,” Christy says. Following Charly’s birth, Christy immediately surrounded herself and family with a team of supportive specialists to earn more about pediatric hearing loss and options for treatment.

Charly was diagnosed with a bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss at age 1 month after failing all three hearing tests as a newborn. She was fitted with hearing aids at 2 months old, which she wore for eight months prior to her cochlear implant (CI) surgery in June 2018. Christy and her husband chose cochlear implantation for their daughter because they wanted to give Charly the best access to speech and sound for her needs.

Christy and Charly. Photo credit: Christy Keane (   @    theblushingbluebird   )

Christy and Charly. Photo credit: Christy Keane (@theblushingbluebird)

Having had access to sound since infancy, Charly will enjoy the same opportunities as a child with typical hearing. Children who receive early intervention for hearing loss reduce their risk of falling behind in speech and language acquisition, academic achievement, and social and emotional development.

The video’s reception inspired Christy to chronicle her daughter’s progress on Instagram. Now with one hundred thousand followers, Christy is thankful to have touched so many individuals all over the world. Her #miraclemomentsoftheday posts, in which she records Charly’s reactions to her daily CI activation (and previously her hearing aids), are especially popular.

Christy is proud to have created a forum that provides encouragement to families of children with hearing loss. “Every day I receive a message from a parent of a newly diagnosed child and I can remember the exact emotions they are experiencing,” she says “I love to be an example of how fulfilling it is to be a parent-advocate and how quickly your perspective changes as you learn more about hearing loss and language options.”

Christy hopes to change perceptions of hearing loss offline, too. She volunteers with Virginia Hands & Voices, an organization that helps families of children with hearing loss. Ultimately, Christy is working to provide an atmosphere for families with children with hearing loss to come together to celebrate their achievements and share their experiences.

Casey Dandrea is an HHF intern studying journalism at Long Island University Brooklyn. For more on Charly’s progress, see Christy’s Instagram.

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My Cautious Gratitude

By Lauren McGrath

Clockwise from left: Heather, her daughter, her husband, and son.

Clockwise from left: Heather, her daughter, her husband, and son.

Heather Mills never imagined her early adulthood would be interrupted by Ménière's disease, a chronic hearing and balance disorder without a cure. She was diagnosed at 21—just within the typical 20-to-50-year-old range of onset—after a slew of tests and follow-up visits with a specialist at the University of Minnesota.

Heather’s symptoms initially included a unilateral (in one ear) mild low-frequency hearing loss, tinnitus, and some ear pressure and pain. Within a few years, her hearing loss became bilateral and worsened from moderate to severe. She was regularly distressed by intense ear pressure, struggled with her balance, and experienced occasional bouts of vertigo. As Heather learned, Ménière's affects each patient differently. She considered herself fortunate not to face drop attacks (instances of falling to the ground without losing consciousness), one of the most terrifying symptoms associated with Ménière's disease.

Despite its prevalence Heather family, hearing loss—once her most debilitating Ménière's symptom—came as a surprise. Her father has lived with a unilateral hearing loss since childhood, while her mother and maternal grandmother both developed high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss in their late 40s. “It never occurred to me that it may one day affect me, too,” reflects Heather, who can recall her ability to hear whispers across her high school classrooms.

Though she followed her doctor’s directions to take diuretics and maintain a low-salt diet for her vestibular symptoms, Heather chose not to purchase hearing aids. Lacking amplification, Heather faced difficulty in her job as a legal project specialist, which required frequent verbal interaction with clients, lawyers, and vendors both on the phone and in person. She found herself increasingly dependent on a close friend and colleague who truly served as her ears by repeating information for her during and after meetings.

Heather’s untreated hearing loss, combined with her constant fear of a sudden vertigo attack, fueled feelings of isolation. Unable to participate in conversations with friends, Heather stopped receiving invites to social outings. Challenges with work and friends began to affect Heather’s mental health. “I became depressed, lonely, and developed anxiety because of two unknowns: not knowing when my vertigo would strike again, and wondering how I’d continue to work to support my family.”

Heather noticed a sharp decline in her job performance when her helpful coworker—her ears—left the law firm. Part of Heather’s role required instructing staff on new software, and she was humiliated to find out that her trainees’ questions went unanswered because they’d not been heard. “This is when I began to lose confidence in myself,” Heather remembers.

Heather realized she had to address her hearing loss. In line with Hearing Health Foundation (HHF)’s findings in a 2017 survey of more than 2300 participants, cost is by far the largest barrier to a hearing aid purchase. Heather delayed taking action for so many years—11 to be exact—because her insurance provided no hearing healthcare coverage.

“All I can say now is I wish I had gotten hearing aids sooner!” exclaims Heather, who, with newfound confidence, no longer struggles in her daily professional communications and social life. Prior to pursuing treatment, her conversations had soured quickly when she constantly had to ask other parties to speak up, repeat themselves, or remind them of her hearing loss. Most painfully, communication without hearing aids often left Heather dismissed by a “nevermind” when she requested repetition. With her new devices, Heather felt her confidence restored.

Now in remission, Heather considers her life happy and her health stable. Hearing aids have somewhat alleviated her tinnitus, her ear pressure has subsided, and the vertigo spells are very rare. She’s sought treatment for her anxiety and depression. Heather credits her husband, Billy, with whom she has two young children, for his support during her more difficult years. Engaging in online Ménière's support groups has been a beneficial coping tool.

Heather is cautiously grateful for her current health, knowing the unpredictability of Ménière's could alter her circumstances at any time. She hopes for scientific advancements in Ménière's research that will one day uncover the causes, more reliable diagnostic procedures, and a cure.

Heather lives in Minnesota with her husband and children. She is a participant in HHF’s Faces of Hearing Loss campaign.

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A Muffled Life

By Jim Lynch

A Tricycle Mishap

For a 5-year-old a tricycle is a mini Lamborghini. Whether this particular model belonged to my family or our next-door neighbor has long since faded in memory, but what made it especially attractive was fashioned to its handlebar: a rubber squeeze-bulb and silver metal horn. Jackie Gilroy and I took turns riding it between our houses for hours during the summer before I was scheduled to enter first grade. We were particularly fascinated by the sound of the horn, a noise we could make louder by using two hands to squeeze air into the metal chamber.

I can’t remember which of us made the suggestion, but one day we discovered that if we placed our ears next to the horn, the sound was louder still. Therefore, in the impulsive and thoughtless manner of children, we took turns blaring that explosive clangor into each other’s ears at point blank range for a good part of the afternoon. We laughed at our discovery and discovered that the effect lasted even longer, with ringing in our ears.

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When I woke the next morning and came downstairs, my mother was at the stove finishing scrambled eggs for my breakfast. As she put my plate before me, I saw her lips moving, but I heard nothing. I put my hands to my ears and began to cry as she tried without success to converse with me. Not only couldn’t I hear her, but I also couldn’t hear my own words, or even the sound of my crying. Overnight, I had become completely deaf.

Facing It

Over the next few days, some muted hearing gradually returned. After I informed her of my squeeze-bulb horn activity, she made an appointment for us with an audiologist. After explaining to him what I had done, and undergoing what passed for extensive testing in midcentury (I remember a series of tuning forks and having to turn my head at various angles and respond to his whispered questions), he informed her that I had permanently damaged the nerve endings at the higher frequency range of hearing in both ears. I remember him telling her that what had happened to me was akin to a soldier’s hearing when a grenade goes off in close proximity. While I didn’t suffer physical injury, the hearing loss was the same.

Even if there were hearing aids available during that era, two things became readily clear: my family would not have been in a financial position to afford them, and, given the type of hearing loss I had sustained, they wouldn’t have helped. Whatever the quality or degree of auricular attenuation I had sustained, it was permanent, and would last for the rest of my life. At five years of age, however, I was simply happy to have regained a measure of hearing. Whatever consequences suffered by Jackie Gilroy are lost to memory.

At that point in my young life, I had little trouble understanding my parents, siblings and friends who were in close proximity. They sometimes had to get my attention if my head were turned (my brothers would often yell, “Hey Beltone!”), but face-to-face conversation was possible. Even so, my parents decided to postpone enrolling me in first grade that September, with the hope that things might somehow improve before I would need to function in a classroom environment.

Starting first grade a year later, I began a long auditory adjustment that paralleled any and all social interaction. My hearing difficulty often appeared to teachers and fellow students as indifference, disrespect or stupidity. High-frequency loss also made it impossible to hear the syllables of some words, and therefore difficult to pronounce them as well.

The “ed” on the past tense of “ask,” for example completely disappeared. Sibilant syllables vanished from spoken words, and the susurration of whispers made them indecipherable. Embarrassment and mockery are stern but effective teachers, however, and they provided remarkable motivation for a trial-and-error approach to the demands of a wider world.

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And Faking It

I soon ascertained that there were many compensatory methods to bring to bear on my degraded hearing. I quickly learned, for example, that the first hint of what others were saying lay in their facial expressions. A frown, scowl or smile provided a starting point for what was to come.

Tone of voice was also a powerful indicator. A flat, staccato grouping of words coupled with a stern expression were causes for apprehension, while a soft, lilting tone combined with an open face often indicated harmony or agreement. If a speaker’s inflection turned up at the end of his sentence, he was likely posing a question.

I further adapted to a system of filling in the gaps when some of the words in a sentence went unheard because of distance, volume or pronunciation. “In what____ was the _______Armada ________ by Great _______?” From the back of the class, such an obvious question (upward inflection at end of sentence) could be understood in sufficient time by a student with hearing loss who had read the assigned history chapter. Those strategies worked with a modicum of success in a classroom where one person spoke at a time. In a noisy environment, however, sounds grew more remote and understanding more problematic.

When as an adult I had an extensive and more sophisticated evaluation done by an audiologist, I discovered that my hearing levels were 70% of normal in the left ear, and 72% in the right. Because of years of adapted strategies, however, my range of understanding registered in the low 90% level for both ears in a quiet, isolated environment.

Lingering Difficulties and Treatment at Last

Nevertheless, song lyrics and movie dialogue continued to pose problems. Because the usual strategies often failed in such circumstances, I often relied on imagination to provide meaning. With resourceful creativity, I used the melody of songs, and the tone of cinematic dialogue, as well as body language of the actors, to provide sufficient clues to the overall context of songs and movies. I sometimes think that my imagination provided better lyrics and dialogue than the lyricist or scriptwriter.

Not until 2005 did technology become available to augment my adaptive methodology. The devices I now use improve my hearing marginally, but I still rely on a lifetime of learned maneuvers to interact with others. Although the sounds of previously difficult sibilant syllables became somewhat crisper, other problems remain or were created.

A moderate wind sounds like a typhoon when it blows over the device’s microphone. In addition, ambient noise levels can still totally negate any level of discernment. At a social gathering such as a wedding reception, for example, the murmur and babble of guests make understanding people directly across a table hit-and-miss. When the band or DJ begins, I must cease conversation altogether, except to respond to the person to my immediate right or left, and then with considerable difficulty.

In the classroom, my disadvantage created a different approach to interaction with students. Because I was fortunate to teach in an atmosphere of deference and tranquility, the majority of conversations with students proceeded nicely. Sometimes, however, soft-spoken or rapid-speaking students, or those in the rear of the class could pose problems. If a request for a repeated question or comment failed to generate clarity, years of learned compensatory techniques usually facilitated sufficient comprehension.

It Made Me a Better Teacher

In retrospect, I suspect that my auditory deficit, and the changes it wrought, made me a better teacher than I would have been with typical hearing. Because I had to utilize alternate methods and techniques (with a visible keenness of focus) to interact with students, my interest in their opinions and evaluations must have conveyed an unusual intensity. As I strained to comprehend their questions, concerns and comments, my physical demeanor emphatically registered the genuine value I placed on understanding their questions and comments in class discussions.

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While a reduction in the ability to hear does not rise to the level of a significant physical disability, it changes the manner in which one must approach life. Such changes, although onerous, can also foster unforeseen advantages. My career as an educator was predicated on an adaptive approach to classroom procedure and management. Without a youthful hearing injury, I may not have gravitated toward teaching at all, or have enjoyed four decades of participation in that noble profession.

Jim Lynch was a high school English teacher for nearly four decades in the Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania area, as well as an adjunct English instructor at area universities and a community college. In retirement, he resides in Fleetwood, Pennsylvania with his wife of 51 years and two cats.

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The Bridge Between Two Worlds

By Vicky Chan

Disability rights attorney Jared Allebest was born with a bilateral profound hearing loss. He was diagnosed at age 1 and fitted for hearing aids a year later. Today, Jared uses both hearing aids and ASL to communicate.

The son of a lawyer, Jared was determined to follow in his father’s footsteps and his hearing loss never deterred him. Throughout his education, he remained inspired by his favorite elementary school teacher, Ms. Marquardt, who taught him one of the most invaluable lessons: Having a hearing loss isn’t a barrier to success. “[Hearing loss] has affected my outlook to fight harder and to push myself to accomplish the things that I want to do in my life,” Jared explains.

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After his graduation from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2009, Jared founded a law firm that advocates for people with hearing loss and speaking disabilities. The firm focuses on empowering their clients through education, advocacy, and lobbying. He works with clients with both typical hearing and hearing loss and takes on cases relating to disability rights or discrimination, as well as employment, marriage/divorce, and criminal law.

Jared admits that he faces auditory challenges in his profession. During trials, he has to be exceptionally attentive to all parties. He also receives assistance from an ASL interpreter in the courtroom so he doesn’t miss anything being said.

Despite some difficulty, Jared believes that his hearing loss is an advantage. His clients are more comfortable with him because they know he can empathize with them. People listen carefully when he speaks about issues concerning hearing loss. “By fighting for the rights of those who live with hearing loss, I am advocating for myself as well. I think of myself as the bridge between two worlds,” Jared says.

Jared’s strong reputation as a dedicated lawyer stems from his sincerity and passion for helping others with legal issues that are deeply personal to him. The most rewarding part of his profession is knowing that his clients are satisfied with his commitment.

Jared’s advocacy for the hearing loss community outside goes beyond the courtroom. He is the former chairman of Loop Utah—an advocacy group dedicated to educating people in Utah about the benefits of loop technology. He currently serves as a community representative on the Advisory Council to the Utah Division of Services to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (USDB Advisory Council).

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Of course, Jared knows he can’t be an advocate for all people with hearing loss, as much as he would like to be. He can’t be the connection between the legal world and the hearing loss world for everyone. Jared maintains that the most important part of living with hearing loss is effective self-advocacy. “Being assertive about your needs will help you to hear better, be more productive, and be happier.”

Jared lives and practices law in Utah. He is a participant in HHF’s Faces of Hearing Loss campaign.

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Breaking The Silence

By Joe Mussomeli

If there's one thing my brother, Alex, and I love, it’s spending time with our cousins in Maryland. We’ve been visiting them for years now—each stay more fun than the last.

These visits have left us all with happy memories of holding Mario Bros. competitions on the Wii, playing tag downstairs, watching funny movies, and, most importantly, telling stories before bed. When we were little, we used to tell stories to each other all the time. Together we’d create ridiculous parodies of fairy tales taking place in obscure settings, including our own versions of Jack and the Beanstalk and The Jungle Book. We loved telling these stories.

One time, we finished telling our stories and readied ourselves for bed. As usual, my brother Alex took his hearing aid and cochlear implant off in preparation for sleep. After this, our cousin Lara, who was only five years old at the time, asked Alex a question. When he didn’t reply, she repeated her question. To her confusion, he didn’t say anything once more. Lara then called for my mom and asked why Alex wasn’t answering. My mom explained to Lara that when Alex takes off his hearing aid and implant, he cannot hear anything.

“He can’t hear anything?” Lara asked.

“He can’t hear anything,” my mom confirmed.

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Lara was silent for a few seconds before she said something; “You know, it’s challenging, but maybe it’s peaceful at times, not hearing a sound. Maybe it’s relaxing for him.”

Though our visits to Maryland are enjoyable, Alex’s hearing loss has presented challenges for our family when we go swimming with our cousins. When Alex was little, he was unable to wear his hearing devices while swimming, for they were not waterproof. This meant that he could not converse with our cousins in the pool; he couldn’t join in on the conversation in a meaningful way. He could talk, but he couldn’t respond. He could swim with them in the pool, splash water in their eyes, and laugh along with them. He just couldn’t hear his own laughter.

We all worried that Alex would get hurt while swimming without his hearing technology.  My cousins and I tried our best to help Alex when we were in the pool. We would always swim near him, making sure he was safe. I, in particular, would answer questions anyone was trying to ask Alex when he was in the water. I hope I did my best to help him out during these early years.

All of this changed when something marvelous entered our lives, a waterproof cover for his cochlear implant that makes it usable for swimming. This has made swimming so much better for Alex. He can now hear in the pool and can socialize with others. He can talk with our cousins, splash them with water, and hear his own laughter. Now, whenever someone asks him for his name, he can confidently say, “I’m Alex, what’s your name?”

Joe Mussomeli is a 10th-grade student who lives in Westport, CT. His younger brother, Alex, has been featured in Hearing Health magazine and is a participant in HHF’s “Faces of Hearing Loss” campaign.

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Painting for a Cure

By Nicolle Cure

My art is the fuel that ignites my passion for helping others. I use my art as a tool to create so that I can support the causes I believe in. Throughout my life, I have created several collections, for the most part biographical. To date, I've been blessed to have the opportunity to collaborate with animal welfare campaigns as well as education and health research initiatives. I am now proudly raising awareness about a particular cause that is dearest to my heart—hearing loss and vestibular (balance-related) disorders—after experiencing these conditions myself.

Nicolle painting in her studio. Credit: Lia Selfridge

Nicolle painting in her studio. Credit: Lia Selfridge

On August 4, 2017, I woke up and noticed that the right side of my head was numb. I felt a strong pressure in my right ear and couldn’t hear anything as my ear felt blocked and full. It was really scary and very sudden.

Since that day, I have been in and out the hospital trying to decipher what is wrong with me and how to cure it. My first audiology appointment showed a profound hearing loss in my right ear, and after steroids injected into the middle ear for two months, I was able to recover the ability to hear low frequencies. However, the high frequencies only improved to severe (from profound), which is why I now suffer from tinnitus and I am extremely sensitive to environmental sounds.

My hearing loss was only the beginning. During the initial months, I also suffered from BPPV (benign paroxysmal positional vertigo), debilitating vertigo episodes, chronic migraines, constant nausea, and dizziness. My balance was completely off and I swayed to the right when walking. It felt like I was walking on quicksand. Another symptom that persisted for months was chronic fatigue, to the point that I could not get out of bed on certain days. My body felt heavy as if I had a slab of concrete on top of me.

These “invisible conditions” can really affect patients an emotional level. I was completely isolated from the world, I didn’t want to see anyone, and I avoided phone calls and going out. I’ve always been a very independent person and the fact that I couldn’t do anything or go anywhere made me feel frustrated most of the time.

My boyfriend Felipe, a communications professional and music producer, has been the greatest companion, helping me thrive and heal with his patience and love, and for that I am truly grateful. We share a passion for music and going to concerts, but from the time of my hearing loss I avoid loud places and crowds in general. I know music to him means as much as art to me, so I now wear custom musician’s earplugs. I am also investigating a hearing aid for my right ear, which my audiologist recommended after a recent tinnitus assessment to manage my tinnitus and sound sensitivity. Vestibular rehab therapy helped me regain my balance, as I had difficulty walking or even just standing still.

And of course my art has been my most powerful coping mechanism. While I am in the process of creating, I can focus better and forget about my symptoms. Painting makes me ignore my tinnitus even for a short period of time.

This experience has given me the opportunity to create awareness about invisible conditions. It is a fuel that continues to ignite my passion for the arts and for helping others. It has given me a sense of purpose—I truly feel the need to wake up and create something beautiful to deliver a powerful message of positivism in spite of my symptoms.

In “The Colors of Sound” painting collection, I am trying to capture emotions and moods in sound. Using his recording equipment, Felipe showed me the range of frequencies that I was not able to hear anymore. It was a bizarre experience to be able to see the sound waves and frequencies that I could no longer hear. These ink paintings replicate the energy and movement of what was now missing.

Behind every invisible illness there are wonderful individuals with the will to thrive and heal. Helping others has been incredibly therapeutic for me, and I gained so much support from people, too. I want to create a space for dialogue so people can be open about their conditions and find treatments and relief and know that they are not alone in this journey.

Nicolle Cure is an artist based in Miami. “The Colors of Sound” appeared at Art Basel in Miami Beach (December 2017–February 2018).

A better quality of life for Nicolle—and so many others—is dependent on research funding for HHF’s groundbreaking scientific programs.

Please, if you are able, make a contribution to the research that will someday make it possible for Nicolle and millions of others to reclaim their independence.

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