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January 12, 2003

Optimists give hearing aids to 11 children

From: Indianapolis Star, IN - 12 Jan 2003

By John Tuohy

January 12, 2003

The generosity of the Breakfast Optimists Club of Indianapolis and a hearing-aid company was music to the ears of Geoffrey and Stefani Bignell on Saturday.

The children were among 11 who were given free hearing aids by the club as part of an annual program. For 10-year-old Geoffrey, who was born deaf, it could be a lifesaver.

Geoffrey speaks in sign language. The aid won't help him hear words, but he can hear sounds now -- like those of approaching cars, police sirens or his mother's shouts.

"It will help me pay more attention to things around me," Geoffrey, one of 2,100 Hoosier children who are deaf or hard of hearing, said in sign. "I can hear beeps or a car engine, or I can turn around if someone calls my name."

"It will be very helpful in an emergency situation," his mother Mich Bignell, 32, concurred.

Leo Brown, a former Optimist Club member who was hard of hearing, started the giveaway 10 years ago, and the number of children served each year has increased ever since.

The Indiana Hearing Aid Co. in Indianapolis sells the aids to the Optimists for $100 each. The devices usually sell for as much as $2,000.

"It is great to see the kids years later. They are so happy," said Dave Wischmann, chairman of the program "Let Them Hear."

The hearing aids are tiny microphones, receivers and transmitters, and each child has to be tested to see which level of loudness is most comfortable, said Debra Liebrich, an education audiologist at the Indiana School for the Deaf in Indianapolis.

"You have to be careful that it is just not noise coming through for some kids," Liebrich said.

Stefani, 7, was born with hearing, but it began to deteriorate when she was 2. Now she will be able to hear.

Her mother said, "She'll be able to hear the karaoke music she likes better, too."

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