Posted on June 1, 2016
William F. Austin founded the Starkey Hearing Foundation in 1984 with the purpose of providing hearing aids to the world’s most disadvantaged. His vision was – so the world may hear. Since that time, thousands of volunteers and supporters whom share his vision have distributed more than 1.8 million hearing aids in over 100 countries to the hearing impaired.
In May 2016, Clear Ears Nurses Chris Harris and Natalie Bossong were given the opportunity to participate in this vision by joining The Starkey Hearing Foundation’s phase 2 missions in Vietnam. With a strong team of over 20 professionals they were assigned roles to work with the otoscopy team. The otoscopy team performs patient ear examinations and removes earwax, foreign bodies and infection using the technique of micro suction and curettage. Performing this technique and clearing the external auditory canal is critical so to ensure optimal hearing aid performance.
The Vietnam mission attracted approximately 500 patients, 80 per cent of which were suffering from conditions requiring treatment by the otoscopy team. This was much higher then anticipated and a vast array of pathology was diagnosed. The pathology observed on the mission differed immensely from that Chris and Natalie have seen as nurses in Australia. The Vietnamese patients exhibited very advanced ear diseases that would normally be detected early in Australia. Unfortunately, inadequate access to healthcare services in Vietnam means many patients experience chronic ear conditions and irreversible damage. This was quite an emotional realisation for our staff.
There were many questions Chris and Natalie wanted to ask the patients in order to complete the ear examinations however communication was challenging. Despite overcoming language barriers by utilising translators, many patients were deaf and had limited speech ability. Obtaining patient consent and compliance for the procedure was described as complex at times. On occasion our staff resorted to non-verbal forms of communication such as body language or displayed photos taken on an otoscopy camera to explain what was happening.
When the patient’s hearing aids were finally fitted and turned on, it elicited an extremely powerful emotional response from the patient. Chris and Natalie spoke of how they couldn’t begin to comprehend what it must feel like to hear for the first time or after years of silence, but the joy witnessed in the smiles, happy tears, hugs and dancing is something they will never forget. These are the moments that reaffirm why Clear Ears encourage their staff to volunteer their time and skills to such missions. Chris and Natalie feel privileged to have been a part of the Starkey Foundation and to have shared in their vision of giving the gift of hearing.