Julie Ann with contest winner 300x200Putting on hearing aids is harder than it looks, especially for first-timers.

Eyeglasses can get in the way. Larger fingers can make grasping the devices difficult. Moving a piece of hair might yank a device out if it’s not fully inserted. And once you get the hearing aids in, there’s the unexpected loudness of every noise.

The winners of the 2018 hearing aid contest held by Physicians Hearing Center and the Dothan Eagle experienced it all.

Forty-eight people were nominated for this year’s contest. Five people received free hearing aids. The winners included Willie Carter, Howard Culley, Leonard Eldridge, Robin Howard and Lorena Leger.

May is Better Hearing and Speech Month. Hearing loss can affect people of all ages and is caused by a number of things from illness and medications to repeated exposure to loud noises. Many people go years after noticing a hearing loss before getting hearing aids, mostly because of the cost.

Earlier this week, winners were fitted with their hearing aids, donated by manufacturer Oticon through Physicians Hearing Center at ENTcare. Along with the actual hearing aids, winners received supplies such as replacement batteries, filters and ear domes, and information on how to care for their devices. Audiologists demonstrated how to change batteries and filters and how to fit the devices in their ears for the best sound. They will also return for a follow-up visit to have the volume slowly adjusted. 

At 46, Robin Howard’s hearing loss has worsened over the last year but it’s a problem she’s been living with for the past 20 years. Howard has faced her share of medical issues. An incomplete paraplegic since a car accident at age 16, Howard was 26 when she was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a type of cancer related to abnormal blood cells in the bone marrow. She had a bone marrow transplant in 1998 and a medication for infection led to ringing in her ears. Over time, the ringing became louder and Howard’s hearing worsened.

Howard teaches ceramics and struggles to hear her students during class.

The hearing devices Howard received will allow her to Bluetooth her iPhone directly into her hearing aids. Audiologist Julie Ann Rikard even showed Howard how an app can help her control the volume.

But what is Howard looking forward to most?

“Just getting out and about and not having to worry about what I’m going to miss,” Howard said. “I might miss something really important.”

Willie Carter, 80, tries to remain active. But about four years ago, he began struggling to hear.

“At night, it’s TV mostly,” Carter said. “I like sports and news.”

His hearing loss becomes really noticeable at church or when talking to someone on the phone. Even in face-to-face conversations, he does not always understand the other person talking.

“It’s getting where it’s kind of embarrassing,” Carter said. “You have a conversation with somebody that you didn’t understand. You don’t know if you answered right.

Leonard Eldridge was nominated by his wife, Mary. The 71-year-old’s hearing suffered from 50 years working in commercial construction and being around loud machinery. Communication is difficult, especially with his three grandchildren.

Howard Culley didn’t even know his hearing was going until his wife, Debbie, scheduled a hearing test for him a few years ago.

“I noticed the last couple of years it’s been getting worse,” Debbie Culley said.

Howard Culley’s hearing loss is likely from environmental noises. He worked construction for 34 years running saws and drills. Once an avid hunter, he’d often practice shooting without any ear protection (He quit hunting when he could no longer hear the deer in the woods.) And he and Debbie are members of the Faith Riders motorcycle ministry at Memphis Baptist Church.

Like many people, the cost of hearing aids – which can be anywhere from $2,000 to $7,000 for a set – was too much, especially after Howard was unable to work construction following a motorcycle accident 10 years ago.

Howard Culley said there are a few things he’s looking forward to hearing. His grandchildren and his great-granddaughter due in August. Being able to connect with people when he witnesses through the motorcycle ministry. And, of course, getting back into the woods.

“Going back to deer hunting with my boys,” Culley said.

Lorena Leger, 80, is looking forward to being able to hear her Sunday school teacher for the first time in a long time. Her church’s sound system helps during regular worship services, but she struggles in the class setting.

“I just thank God first because this has just been an answered prayer for me,” Leger said.


Article written by Peggy Ussery, originally published on May 12, 2018, in the Dothan Eagle.