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December 11, 2002

Hear on Earth center gives El Pasoans gift of sound

From: El Paso Times, TX - 11 Dec 2002

Diana Washington
Valdez El Paso Times

The gift Anthony Morales found Wednesday under a Christmas tree will help him to hear noises and maybe even make out words for the first time in his life.

The 19-year-old has been practically deaf since birth; that is until Melissa Bamberg fitted him with a special hearing aid that added a dimension of sound to his world.

When he heard noises in Bamberg's office, he smiled and started exchanging signing messages with two friends who accompanied him to the Hear on Earth Hearing Care Center.

"He had 3 percent hearing before the fitting," said Bamberg, founder of Help El Paso Hear. "With the aid, he will probably have 30 or 40 percent hearing, enough to make out a range of sounds and perhaps some words."

Morales was among the 20 children and young people who received free custom hearing aids this year through Hear on Earth and the Austin Hearing Foundation in Minneapolis, Minn. The program, which benefits young El Pasoans who can't afford hearing aids, is in its second year.

Experts say hearing loss can stem from such factors as high fevers, reactions to prescription drugs and high levels of noise. Some are born with hearing impairments or inherit the condition. In some, custom instruments can help restore hearing completely, or at least provide enough hearing to make a difference in their lives.

Bamberg, a foundation volunteer who has traveled to South America to help children hear better, recently launched a project in Juarez with the same goal. More than 100 children have been tested, and some of them could be fitted with new hearing aids by spring.

"Hopefully, by getting them fit with quality hearing aids, they can have a better life," Bamberg said. "Some of them struggle in school because of hearing-related problems."

Eighth-grader Justin Lopez, 14, also picked up a packet under the office holiday tree containing a new hearing aid. The instrument is designed to correct a 30 percent hearing loss in his left ear. The hearing in his right ear is normal.

His mother, Linda, and 17-year-old brother looked on while Bamberg adjusted the aid to his ear.

Linda Lopez said she felt her son was having trouble listening in class because of his hearing imbalance. She brought him to the center in August for testing, and he received his hearing aid Wednesday.

"The sounds (through the left ear) are different. ... It will help me," Justin Lopez said as Bamberg clapped her hands at his left and right sides.

The donated custom hearing aids are considered top of the line and range in cost from $1,800 to $3,800 a unit.

Copyright © 2001 El Paso Times.