By Carly Sygrove
An estimated 15% of school-age children in the United States live with hearing issues, and the number in adolescents is rising. Matti, age 11, of Gatesville, Texas, is among them, and struggled not only with auditory function but also with the price of care. Her journey, however, took an amazing turn due to a connection made through a doctor’s office.
When hearing loss begins early
Matti, who is the youngest of five siblings, began having hearing problems when she was a baby. She suffered from recurrent ear infections, which are common in young children. But, due to a rare heart condition, she couldn’t take medications to treat the congestion. So, when she was 15 months old, the family opted to have tubes inserted in her eardrums — a standard procedure to help drain the fluid from her ears, preventing further infections.
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Usually, the tubes fall out on their own, and the small hole in the eardrum heals. But, in Matti’s case, the holes didn’t close, and her hearing became affected. With each new ear infection, the holes in Matti’s eardrums grew larger, resulting in further hearing loss.
Would surgery help her hearing?
When she was six years old, the holes had grown to over 50 percent of the total size of Matti’s eardrums. At this critical moment in social and educational development, she was struggling to hear anything at all.
So her family took the next step: Matti had an operation called a Tympanoplasty to reconstruct her eardrums, using skin grafts. Unfortunately, there were some surgical complications, and she ended up needing another surgery the next day to repair a hematoma (when blood collects outside of blood vessels). A day of surgery turned into a three-day hospital stay – and caused a lot of trauma for the whole family.
Matti had an operation called a Tympanoplasty to reconstruct her eardrums.
After she healed from surgery, Matti could hear well, and it seemed like all her hearing difficulties would soon be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, this didn’t last long.
Two years later, Matti was having difficulties hearing again. Her mother Angela recalls, “We were constantly having to yell and repeating ourselves. She struggled in school and with making friends. She became very shy and withdrawn and kept to herself.”
It was clear something was wrong. Matti and her mother went back to see the doctor, who discovered her body had rejected the grafts. The holes were back, causing considerable hearing difficulties. Matti remembers feeling sad and scared that she would never be able to hear again.
Finding out if hearing aids would help
Due to previous complications, it was unlikely that further surgery could help Matti. So instead, the family decided to explore hearing aid options.
“When the audiologist put the testers on me, it was amazing!” recalls Matti. “My mom started to talk to me, and I told her to quit yelling. I remember hearing my own voice for the first time.”
But the family was shocked when they found out that the hearing aids would cost $3,000. “My heart absolutely sank when we found out insurance didn’t cover any of the cost,” Angela told HearingTracker.
Then, an amazing bit of luck landed in the family’s lap. Angela explained, “When I told the audiologist’s [finance officer] that we were exhausting all the resources we could find, she told me about Any Baby Can.”
The gift of hearing
Any Baby Can is a Texas-based non-profit organization with a mission to “partner with families to build stability, develop skills, and unlock each child’s full potential.” HearingTracker spoke to Jennifer Peterson, Director of Public Relations and Strategic Partnerships, to find out more.
Any Baby Can provides an array of support services—from mental-health counseling to medical-case management—offered for free or on a sliding scale to ensure their programs are available to those most in need. Its Children’s Hearing Aid Texas (CHAT) program gives practical support to families of children with hearing loss. “In addition, CHAT provides financial assistance for audiological assessments, hearing aids, earmolds, implant replacement parts, and batteries, as well as services required to fit and maintain hearing aids,” Peterson informed HearingTracker.
“I got in touch with a wonderful person at CHAT,” said Angela, “who took all my info over the phone and emailed me some forms to fill out. She called me back the very next day and told us they were going to cover 100 percent of the cost. I asked her to repeat that because I couldn’t believe it!”
Entering a new world of hearing
Matti received her first pair of hearing aids when she was eight years old. She was even able to choose the design which she describes as “a pretty teal color with a neon green tube.”
“I was so happy and just trying to listen to everything,” Matti told HearingTracker. “The first thing I remember hearing was the elevator at the doctor’s office; I never knew they made a noise. I heard a bird singing; it was so pretty.”
“I was kind of overwhelmed at first. I remember being in the cafeteria and hearing all the kids talking and thinking, ‘Wow! Are we always this loud?!’ But it was the happiest day of my life!”
Receiving hearing aids changed Matti’s life, transforming her social life and driving her passion for music.
Since Matti received hearing aids, Angela has seen a big change in her daughter. “She has really come out of her shell. She has so many friends now and is quite the social butterfly,” Angela said. “She loves showing off her hearing aids and has even convinced a couple of people from church to start wearing theirs.”
Her passion for music has flourished. “I’ve always loved music, but I am hearing it so much better now, especially the lyrics. There are so many songs I had been singing wrong for a long time!” she shared. “And now I play two instruments: my bass guitar and the baritone with the school band.”
Matti told HearingTracker that hearing aids have “changed everything” for her. “I can enjoy so many things now,” she said. Angela added, “We are just so blessed that Any Baby Can was able to make this happen for Matti. Being able to hear has changed her whole world. We will be forever grateful.”
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