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May 31, 2003

Doctor gives gift of hearing in Mexico

From: St. Louis Dispatch, MO - May 31, 2003

Kristin Stefek
Of the Suburban Journals O'fallon Mo Journal
,St. Charles Journal
,St. Peters Journal

Dr. Kelly Gessert witnessed several hundred miracles during his time in Mexico two weeks ago, but there's one that drifts into his mind more frequently than others.

Gessert, an audiologist who runs a private practice in St. Peters, was in the town of Puerto Escondido. He had just fitted hearing aids on a 9-year-old boy with severely impaired hearing, who most likely had never heard a sound in his life.

The boy's mother and father watched as Gessert turned on the device.

The boy's face brightened as the sounds of the world suddenly flooded his formerly quiet existence.

His mother uttered something in Spanish, and the boy turned and looked at her. It was the first time the boy heard his mother's voice.

Tears poured down her face, said Gessert, who also couldn't keep a dry eye when telling the story Friday. He recalls a translator later telling him the woman said "May God bless you. There's a special place for you in our hearts."

It's a moment he will never forget, a moment he experienced thanks to a one-week trip sponsored by the Starkey Foundation and Microtech. The two organizations selected five American audiologists, including Gessert, and flew them to Oaxaca, Puerto Escondido, Zipolite to fit underprivileged children with hearing aids.

"We were changing their lives and giving children the ability to make something of themselves," Gessert said.

The Starkey Foundation, which also assists youth in the United States, provided the hearing aids, donated by individuals and organizations nationwide. The doctors delivered and fitted the devices free of charge to families in the three cities. They conducted their mission with the Starkey Foundation's motto - "so the whole world may hear" - in mind.

The doctors worked almost 10-hour shifts for seven days in which time they treated more than 400 children, some from families who traveled great distances for the service.

The first child's family drove four hours to catch a bus, then traveled eight more hours, Gessert said. The trip cost $40 – two weeks of the father's salary. The journey, though, was a chance to provide their child with something they could never afford. Hearing aids, on average, run $2,000 to $8,000, Gessert said.

"These people would never have the chance to experience hearing at that cost," he said.

Before the trip, Gessert had never traveled so far outside the United States. He's worked out of an office in St. Peters for two years, but in all, he's worked in St. Charles County for 16 years.

His recent experience, though it involved sleeping in 100-degree weather with no air conditioning, is one he said he would do again "in a heartbeat."

"I sit here in my office, and I just think back, when I'm not doing anything, about how incredible it was to help someone," he said. "One day one of those kids might make it."

Gessert doesn't know if or when another trip will occur, but for now he is encouraging anyone with old hearing aids to send them to his office, The Hearing Center of St. Charles County, 318-M Mid Rivers Mall Drive, or call (636) 397-6966. The hearing aids will be sent to organizations that deliver the devices around the world.

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