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December 19, 2002

Audiologist spearheads screenings at JTDMH

From: Wapakoneta Daily News, OH - 19 Dec 2002

By STACY J. BRAUN, Staff Writer

Newborns are getting the audio testing they need at Joint Township District Memorial Hospital in St. Marys, thanks to a piece of legislation that demands the service for all babies, up-to-date equipment to perform the screenings and a dedicated leader who fought for precise observation of hearing loss in newborns.

An audiologist at JTDMH for 11 years, Peg Meiring, of Minster and formerly of St. Marys, found that in her screenings of at-risk children, only 50 percent of children with hearing impairment were being identified, which does not include those children with no risk who suffered from hearing loss.

Before purchasing the otoacoustic emissions testing equipment this spring, which takes about five minutes to conduct a test, the hospital relied on a much more grueling process to furnish hearing exams.

"The process, which is called an auditory brain stem evoked response, is a complicated test that involves measuring electrical activity," Meiring said. "It takes about an hour and a half and only 33 percent of parents brought the babies back to be tested."

"Now we can do it while the newborns are still in the hospital and they do not have to come back," she added, noting that the modernized equipment can be utilized by nurses as well, which frees up the audiologist and saves time.

The $10,000, updated equipment, which was first going to be paid by a grant Meiring submitted, was purchased by the hospital after the grant fell through and Meiring convinced the administration that it was a worthwhile investment.

A month after the purchase, the grant representative who worked with Meiring called and said she had been talking with a couple in her home state of Delaware who had hearing-impaired grandchildren, and she told them about Meiring's program at the small rural hospital. They decided to donate the money to JTDMH for the equipment, as well as to two other hospitals who applied for funding, she said. The donors asked to remain anonymous.

"Hearing loss is one of the major things that is so devastating to a child's development," Meiring said. "It affects all areas of life, including the interaction between parent and child."

"There is so much auditory learning in infancy, even when the child is in the womb, and as they get older it can effect them cognitively and emotionally as well," she added, expressing her passion on the subject. A study from the University of Colorado said that if a child is not identified as hearing impaired by the time they are six months old, parents might as well wait until the child is 2 years old, because they may never catch up or reach their full potential after missing such a chunk of their developmental process, Meiring said.

With members of her family being hearing-impaired, Meiring said her interest in psychology sparked to an education in audiology when she realized psychology was just to vast.

"I needed a more immediate award and it is wonderful that I'm helping people with hearing," she said. "My job is medical, it's agnostic and I also get to help people with rehabilitation."

"It's just great to help people and I think that's what I like the best," she said.

Meiring told a story describing one of those special times.

"A mother brought her 2-year-old daughter in and it was evident that she had severe hearing loss, because she had no speech," she said. "So we fitted her for a hearing aid and then I put a CD on and she came over to me and put her hands on my face and just looked into my eyes for the longest time."

"And then she took the ear piece out of her ear and gave it to me so that I could hear the music too; she thought the hearing aid is what makes you hear," she added, calling it a very special moment for her and to the girl's mother.

Meiring also was pleased to talk about a new no-cost program that is available in several counties in Ohio, including Auglaize and Mercer counties, called the Regional Infant Hearing Program. The program was encouraged and campaigned for by Vanessa Lee of JTDMH, and it ensures that families receive all the information and help in meeting the needs of those with a hearing impairment, she said.

"It assures that no child gets lost in the system," Meiring said, noting that she is pleased at the way things have developed at the hospital and with the support of the administration.

"With the universal hearing screenings, which are required now by law, we will continue to improve on early identification of hearing impairment and as we go through the process, we will see that improvement," she said.

Establishing the program at JTDMH is particularly meaningful for Meiring, as it is the hospital she was born in, she said. She enjoys hiking and yoga, as she is an instructor in the holistic exercise. She has one child, a daughter Nicole, who works in adult literacy in Columbus.

© Wapakoneta Daily News 2002