“We change the heart through the ears”

Is a quote from our leader Bill Austin that couldn’t be more true.

The Dominican Republic mission was an amazing, life changing journey, of which I was grateful to be a part and use my skills to give back to those in need. Despite everything I learned and leaving the Dominican as a better provider, better father, and better person, this mission wasn’t about me or even the Starkey Hearing Foundation. It was all about each of the nearly 1500 individual lives we changed….the hearts we touched.

In a place where you think things cannot get any worse with suffering and desperation, we came across lost souls… the people that society gave up on and in-turn they gave up on themselves. Young kids like Samuel, in the above picture, who was placed in a deaf school with no real functional verbal skills despite only mild to moderate hearing loss. One simple act of kindness from the Starkey Hearing Foundation proved society wrong and will change Samuel’s life forever. Perhaps an even more profound transformation to hope and dignity could be seen with the elderly patients we encountered. Their bodies were alive, but their hearts and souls were dead because days, weeks, months, years, and even decades have passed without any communication from another human being.

Isabella was one of these lost souls. When you looked into her eyes, you saw no life. She had no known family members, no known address, not even a birthdate on record. At a young age, she likely was thrown out onto the streets because of her severe hearing loss. Somehow, someway, on a very hot and humid day this past spring, Isabella walked through pouring rain and arrived at our mission. When it was Isabella’s turn to be fit with hearing aids, the translators walked her to me and reported that she has no functional hearing and cannot speak so they had no way of communicating with her. All my schooling and all my training was useless in this case. I had no translator, no accurate audiogram, no computers, no real-ear, and none of the high-tech equipment we depend on in clinic.  It was me and Isabella with two earmolds and two hearing aids. What was I going to do? With the exception of Bill and Tani, my team at Starkey in TeleAudiology sees the most patients. There is a big difference between what we are taught in school and real-world experience. Despite eight years of higher education and what our professors have preached to us, my team has heard me say a million times,

“We don’t fit audiograms. We fit patients.”

It doesn’t matter if I am in my high-tech office consulting over the internet remote accessing into a computer thousands of miles away or if I am standing under a canopy in pouring rain in the heat of the Dominican Republic, we fit patients. The fact that Isabella miraculously made it to the mission told me she wasn’t giving up on herself so I wasn’t going to give up on her. I sat Isabella down in the chair and got to work using my own gut instincts. After increasing several power levels of devices, BAM! I visually saw the very moment, through pure human emotion and response, when Isabella’s hearing life came back from the dead. Her eyes filled with life, her lips formed a smile, and her posture became sturdy. It was that very moment we connected to her heart and she rose and started vocalizing “whoop”, “whoop”, “whoop” crying because it was the first time in her life she heard her own voice. Thanks to the Starkey Hearing Foundation, Isabella now has a much different life ahead.

The mission greatly exceeded my expectations. It was a very valuable and worthwhile experience that reinforces the truth that we are all connected in our world. We all have two ears and one heart and a soul that needs life.