Testing patient during humanitarian trip

What’s in there?

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It’s amazing what we found in the ears on a recent humanitarian trip to Turks and Caicos.

Three kids had broken Q-tips in their ears – one had even gone to the hospital in pain weeks ago but was only given ear drops.

We extracted items including seashells, beads, and even insects.

In one day we excised excessive wax from 27 children.

The good news: when the wax and objects were taken out, their hearing became normal without the need for aids.

When hearing aids aren’t the answer

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Sometimes the best help we can provide to our patients has nothing to do with hearing aids.

This was the case during a humanitarian trip to Turks and Caicos for our Pacific Hearing Service team this month.

We worked with a four-year-old who was a huge challenge to test. Unable to go to school because of several special needs – including autism – the mother was left to her own devices.

Luckily, we were able to give advice and occupational therapy suggestions for his mother to utilize at home.

She was thankful to have someone care enough to work with her and to help her child.

Sometimes the situation doesn’t warrant hearing aids. We always try to show we care and share as much advice and resources as possible, even when it has nothing to do with hearing care.

Patient hears for the first time in years

Gift of hearing brings clinic to tears

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During a Pacific Hearing Service humanitarian trip to Turks and Caicos, the team was able to bring the gift of hearing to a woman who hasn’t been able to for years.

The woman – who asked us not to use her name – had hearing aids when she was a little girl but lost them.

Eventually, she quit school because other children would tease her about her hearing loss.

Although she still cannot hear speech, she is married and has two children.

Her best friend is a missionary in the village. When the missionary told her we were coming to the area to provide hearing care, they both decided to come.

When she was fitted and could finally hear again her friend cried, which in turn made her cry, and soon everyone was hugging and crying throughout the clinic!

Turks and Caicos patient cries tears of joy after the Pacific Hearing Team helps fit her with new hearing aids.

Desjohn shows off his donkeys

How new hearing aids helps keep donkeys in check

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There were many high points while working in a makeshift audiology clinic on Grand Turks last month.

One of our favorite encounters was with a young man named Desjohn who lost his hearing aids during the 2008 hurricane, and for the last ten years has had severely limited hearing.

He discovered our team on the last day of the clinic, but we were able to squeeze him into the patient roster. Desjohn was passionate about having the opportunity to get help and didn’t care about anything except being able to hear.

He told us the greatest challenges he faces have been at work – caring for feral donkeys, which hold a great historical significance on the island. An important part of his job is to answer calls from the community when donkeys are either in trouble or causing it, and he often can’t hear what people are trying to say. He also can’t communicate well with colleagues.

When he gave lectures to children in local classrooms it has been hard to understand their questions.

Finally, we were able to fit him with new hearing devices and he was over the moon with happiness! He kept saying how clear everything sounded as he jumped up and down, sent photos to his boss and friends, and told everyone how well he could hear.

Pacific Hearing Audiologists stand with a happy patient.

Audiologists Jane Baxter and Debbie Clark join Desjohn and his donkeys after a hearing aid fitting.

He proceeded to show us photos of his beloved donkeys and even gave us a tour of the community where we met some. (He has named each one.)

He was so proud of his new hearing aids that he showed everyone we came across. It was rewarding to see someone so excited about hearing again.

Desjohn’s goal now is to go back to school to become a veterinarian.

Jane Baxter, Au.D.: Helping people hear well

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That both her father and grandfather were ear, nose and throat doctors had nothing to do with Jane Baxter getting interested in treating hearing loss and becoming a Doctor of Audiology.

“I was a development psychology major at UCSB and had never heard of audiologists,” she says. “Then, one of my professors asked for two students to work with people with hearing loss. I got intrigued with ears and ended up pursuing the field professionally.”

After stints at the Palo Alto VA and Stanford, Jane opened up a private practice called Pacific Hearing Service in Los Altos, expanding to a second office on El Camino in Atherton in 1991. That office relocated to its present site on the Alameda in Menlo Park  five years ago. Jane, who can now walk to work, manages the Menlo Park office while her business partner Debbie Clark oversees the Los Altos office.

“I think what drew me to audiology was the combination of psychology and science,” she says. “It’s a whole methodology. Things go wrong with the ear, but things can get fixed.”

In her Personal Health column in the New York Times, Jane E. Brody characterized hearing loss as a hidden disability, sometimes not obvious to others or to those who have it — citing that it may go untreated in 85% of those affected.

Jane admits that there is confusion between hearing aid dispensers, such as you find at Costco, and hearing specialists. “You buy a product from a hearing aid dispenser,” she says. “It’s the business model. The other model is medical. A clinical doctorate in audiology is a four-year post graduate degree.”

As Brody’s article points out, hearing aids by themselves are not always a complete solution to hearing loss. Hence, there is a reason for seeing an audiologist, who can also help with assistive devices for talking on the phone and watching TV.

“Plus, not everyone who has hearing loss needs a hearing aid,” says Jane. “It’s our job to identify where the damage is. Sometimes, it’s earwax or an infection.”

When patients need a hearing aid, recent technological advances are in their favor. “Now, using wireless technology, you can connect a hearing aid to other wireless technology,” she says. “All of a sudden you don’t have to be right next to a person to hear.”

However, she cautions that the technology is only as good as the expertise of the person you are working with. “It’s not just a product, it’s a process,” she says.

Pacific Hearing Service will be giving free demonstration of wireless hearing technology for three days, Feb. 22-24. Complimentary consultations and hearing screen will also be provided. Appointments can be made by calling (650) 854-1980.