This is an extremely personal note, and I have been waiting a week to write to see if in fact the results were real and lasting. I’m happy to report that they are and I am a changed person as a result of this transformation. Let me tell you a story about my struggle and how I suffered with hearing loss for years. Let me explain how my family and my friends and my career and everything suffered along with it, and what I did to solve it.
Many of you that read WUWT and have met me in person at conferences, speaking engagements, and over the telephone, realize what a struggle everyday life has been for me with an 85% hearing loss. The story begins when I was an infant – I had a series of infections which our local doctor treated with tetracycline, an antibiotic that at the time they did not know would cause long-term hearing loss. It also causes discoloring of your adult teeth in later life. Like with so many drugs, no one quite knew at the time what long-term effects it might have. The product is now [mostly] off the market, however the effects have remained with me and many other people.
By the time I was five years old my mother began to realize that something was not right with my hearing. She would accuse me of not paying attention to her or to be ignoring her when she called me to come in after playing outside. By the time I was 10 years old I needed a hearing aid and for the first time I heard crickets and birds chirping and it rose to a “wow” moment for me. But it did not last and my hearing continued to degenerate. A couple of months after I got my first hearing aid, my father died unexpectedly and thrust me into an even greater personal turmoil.
During high school I got tagged with the stigma of wearing a hearing aid as well as the social isolation that began to creep in. By the time I was in college I needed a second hearing aid on my other ear, because I could not hear lectures and I was having trouble interacting with people. Wearing two hearing aids gave me a binaural advantage and it helped, but again it did not last, and my hearing began to deteriorate further. This was not unexpected, as it was known that such things would happen as a result of the tetracycline damaging the nerve cells of my cochlea.
Along with the trouble I had in college, particularly with the requirements for taking a foreign language in school of science, (well before the Americans with Disabilities Act existed – they had no solution for me) there was a huge social stigma attached and my own self-worth suffered as a result. Through a happy accident with the computer that directed students for employment for the work – study program, I found myself as employed as a faculty research assistant for the school of atmospheric sciences at Purdue University, and it was there that I began to find my calling.
I was employed to help with the research on the tornado simulator re-creating and verifying some of Dr. Theodore Fujita’s science on tornadoes, particularly multiple vortices. I also was tasked with creating, equipping, and constructing the Cherry Lane remote meteorological facility for the University. I was tasked with getting live real-time data back from this facility to display in the hallway at the atmospheric sciences department. This is no small task in 1976 when things like modems, analog-to-digital converters, and real-time data streams were hard to come by.
About the same time the local television station, WLFI-TV, had just put on “Miss Indianapolis 500” to do the local weather report. Her main asset was her ability to look pretty, but it became painfully clear that she had no cognizance of what she was doing, and I wrote a complaint letter to the TV station saying “surely you could find someone more qualified in this college town particularly with the University that has the meteorology department.”
Weeks passed, and I forgot about the letter but a change occurred at the TV station and all the sudden I see a qualified individual, an agricultural meteorologist from the agronomy department doing the weather presentation there. He was competent and concise, but in terms of presentation the pendulum had shifted to the extreme other hand and the delivery was difficult to watch. I hadn’t given it another thought though because I thought that they had paid attention to what I complained about. A couple of months later I ran into this gentleman in the hallway of the meteorology department at Purdue and I ask him how the job was going. And he replied to me that he hated it, he was thinking of quitting, and that he didn’t like the hours, and he didn’t like how he had to work in dark studio 11 o’clock at night. I wished him well and we went our separate ways, and I thought to myself later in the day “gee, I could do that job”.
Being young, naïve, and probably a little bit stupid I went to the television station the next day to apply for the job, I didn’t even call first. I just said I wanted to see the “person in charge of the news”. They brought him to the front desk, and said I want to apply for this job and he looked at me and sized me up there in my best suit with a stupid grin on my face, and said simply “okay let’s see what you got”.
I’d never before been on television with chromakey but I had some experience with a television class and radio class in my high school. And, I had confidence that I could speak in public thanks to reading passages from the Bible at my church in front of the whole congregation. I was told I had a great voice. To my own surprise and to the surprise of the news director, I nailed the audition and they hired me on the spot. And after the first week on the job, some of the fear and self-loathing I had over my hearing loss began to evaporate and I realized that this was my destiny. In broadcasting I didn’t have to listen, I didn’t have to understand speech, I only have to talk. And because of my hearing loss I had developed a deep booming voice, mainly so that I could hear my own voice, and it was a major major asset for a broadcaster. All of a sudden I went from being pained, shy, and socially isolated to being a person who began to emerge into the light.
But, let me tell you my friends the media business is a lonely one. Friendships don’t easily form, because people climb the ladder and are very competitive and they think to themselves “I’m only going to be here a year or two so why should I form friendships when I just have to abandon them very soon”.
So, what does all of this have to do with my hearing loss? Well it has to do with the fact that hearing loss is a terrible social isolation. People that are blind actually do better socially than people with severe hearing loss. And many people who have severe hearing loss such as myself get symptoms that further exacerbates the social isolation. Much of my life over the past 40 years has been a great deal of social isolation. But it has gotten worse lately as my hearing deteriorated further in 2008 and it was about that time that I discovered that blogging opened a whole new world for me and allowed me to form friendships with people around the world – something I’ve never experienced before. Even though I was no longer on television, blogging became my social outlet while my hearing suffered further.
The downside of all of this was that blogging took time away from my family, and my due to the continual deterioration of my hearing I became a social hermit. My family suffered as a result of this and I recognize now how much I’ve lost due to this situation. I cringe now, when I think of the pain I’ve caused my own family, due to that isolation. I credit my ex-wife for giving me the “giant kick in the ass” that led to the transformation that I experienced a week ago in Minneapolis Minnesota at a company called Starkey laboratories and their hearing foundation which serves people worldwide.
On October 27th, I walked in to the doors of the Starkey hearing foundation and I asked for help, and they gave it without hesitation. But, after going to the initial evaluation the news was not good, not good at all. My hearing had deteriorated into what would be called the profound loss category and you can see this in the photo below of my hearing test that was administered that morning.
As you can see the test results were pretty grim. And when the consultant told me that he wasn’t sure he could do much for me without going to large behind the ear hearing aids or some other solution. My heart sank. I had been able to eliminate part of my social stigma by going to what’s called CIC hearing aids which stand for “completely in canal”, but now I was going to have to deal with the stigma of the behind the ear aids that I dealt with as a student and in early adult life. But I wouldn’t accept no for an answer, and I pleaded with the consultant, Neil, to create new hearing aids in the style that I was currently wearing. His major concern was that they would go into constant feedback given the sound pressure levels that I needed as well as the proximity of the microphone and the speaker over such a short distance inside my ear canal. But I reminded him that technology has advanced and that the new feedback suppression systems as well as other advances might give me a chance and we had a good talk about it. He agreed to help me.
This section of the campus at the Starkey Laboratories is called the Center for Excellence and indeed it is, because this is where miracles are performed every day by a staff of caring and talented people that exist nowhere else in the world.
The walls are lined with photographs, autographs, and letters from heads of state, celebrities, astronauts, the Pope, and even a letter from Mother Teresa thanking the man that formed this company and the miracle that it produces for restoring their hearing. That man’s name is Bill Austin and I got introduced to him almost a decade ago thanks to a business deal that never came to fruition related to a videoconferencing system with an otoscope envisioned by my friend Kris Koenig.
I never made that sale because right in the middle of the presentation I was making Bill Austin stood up and said “okay this demonstration is over”, and I thought I had done something terribly wrong. The real fact was Bill was tired of me not being able to understand his questions clearly and so he wanted to create some new hearing aids for me because he could tell I was struggling. That’s the kind of man he is. Back then technology for hearing aids hadn’t changed all that much. But they were a great improvement as were the ones that I received again in 2008.
Below are some of the photos on the wall and the letters on the wall at the Center for Excellence, a testament to their work. This is just one panel of dozens there.
There are also dozens of photographs, no make that hundreds, of children around the world that have been helped by this man and the foundation he has started to spread goodness and the American initiative throughout the world.
Bill wasn’t in that day, he was off in Afghanistan fitting children who had their hearing damaged by the ravages of war with new hearing aids to help them in their own social isolations.
The amazing thing about Starkey Laboratories Center for Excellence is that they are able to build solutions right there on the spot.
And so after going to the tests, the pleading and bargaining over the design, the waiting began. They were manufacturing hearing aids custom to my problem, and with the latest technology available nowhere else in the world. Below are a couple of photos of the facility and the team of people who made this possible.
I was encouraged but was bracing myself for failure, hoping that these new hearing aids would not go into constant feedback in my ears, making them useless.
Nearly five hours later I had my new hearing aids. The most amazing part to me was that these tiny hearing aids that fit entirely inside my ear contained a complete computer and digital signal processing system. Like Windows they even have a bootup sound when you turn them on and a remote control and a direct to cell phone Bluetooth system that makes being able to hear on the telephone no longer a chore.
The next step was customization to fix the booming and the and the small spikes of pain from the extreme sound pressure levels that I had to endure from the powerful amplifiers. Everything is computerized now & tuning became simply a matter of a few mouse clicks thanks to Dr. Suma and her expertise. This is what my restoration curve looks like:
And so, with my solution complete, I went back to the hotel. Using the remote control I had been provided, I had to turn my hearing aids down to drive the car because the road noise was deafening. And when I got in the hotel, I decided the first thing I should do is celebrate a bit so I went to the bar to have a drink. It was there that I confronted my worst nightmare and my biggest test of whether these would actually help me or not: a tiny little blonde woman who was the bartender. She could not have been more than 5 feet tall.
The World Series game was on the TV and there were a lot of people in the bar and there was a lot of noise, and I dreaded the moment where I was going to have to speak to this tiny little woman because tiny women have tiny voices and tiny voices are often high-pitched and very difficult for me to comprehend. So, my test was on and she spoke to me and a miracle occurred: she asked me what I wanted and I told her I wanted a “Manhattan on the rocks” and then she asked me what kind of Bourbon I wanted it and I was able to say with pride exactly what I wanted. She returned a few minutes later with a drink and then asked me if I wanted to order something to eat and asked me if I wanted to hear the specials for today. For decades I’ve never heard what the specials have been in restaurants – they are just something that I waited for it to be over, but this time I heard them all. I thanked her, and read the menu and made my decision as to what I wanted. And I motioned her to come over when she asked if I was ready to order and I said yes and I proceeded to tell her what I wanted with some small modifications.
Now you have to understand that this normal mundane everyday event that most of you reading take for granted is something that would strike terror in my psyche every time I have to go through this. But this time something amazing happened, something I hadn’t anticipated. You see, because I couldn’t hear myself I’d always had this booming voice and to some people that booming voice was offputting even though it was great for being a broadcaster. Now, my voice is much lower in volume. And as I described my order to this tiny little blonde woman who was the bartender she leaned over to me and said “can you repeat that”?
This was a moment I’ll remember forever. All of a sudden the tables were turned, and I was thrilled beyond imagination to be able to repeat something for someone else. I knew then that a transformation that occurred and I made a short and simple post to my Facebook page via my phone. It read:
And to my amazement dozens and then hundreds of accolades and comments started pouring in while I was sitting there at the bar. I began to cry and tears were streaming down my face. I was so happy and I couldn’t stop it because the weight and pain of the last 40 years were suddenly lifted from me. It truly was epic.
There were two people sitting at the end corner of the bar who looked at me and asked with concern, “Sir, are you okay?” I proceeded to tell them what happened and I had a glorious conversation with two people who I had never met and I understood every word. They were thrilled for me.
I can’t begin to tell you what that felt like. And it kept getting better as I learned to be able to tune these new hearing aids to situations and it made comprehension even easier. The next day I posted this on my Facebook page:
You see, the inability to hear on a daily basis during normal simple everyday things like ordering a cup of coffee at Starbucks or going through a drive-through to order food to take home to my family were challenges that I often failed, and it made me frustrated and angry all the time. This affected people around me and especially the people I hold most dear; my own family. Now all of that is gone and I’m like an entirely new person because of this transformation.
My ability to hear on the telephone has been transformed too. These new hearing aids have direct Bluetooth connections and so I am able to carry on a conversation using both ears with my cell phone. The fidelity is phenomenal and my comprehension is now nearly perfect where maybe before I could pick up 50% on a good day. This new technology is beyond what I could have imagined.
I had to share this with you because I know that this story will help people. While there are many good local hearing aid professionals in towns and cities around the United States and the world, the Starkey laboratories Center for Excellence is a place where miracles happen and one happened for me. I can imagine that almost everyone reading this has a member of their family or friends who suffer from hearing loss and they are afraid to deal with it or find it difficult to get the proper solution. I urge you to urge them to seek out a solution as I did. It is truly life-changing.
I spent several thousand dollars for this solution, and it is the best money I have ever spent. Don’t let the cost scare you if you need help, there are ways of overcoming financial difficulty and the results will pay you back ten-fold.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like more information please contact:
I will be off-line for most of today doing some work training some people on some software and for the first time in my life I look forward to doing it.