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June 5, 2004

Healthy Athletes program testing hearing of disabled

From: Provo Daily Herald, UT - Jun 5, 2004


After running a 100-meter race Friday, Kimberly Batchelor wanted a good way to relax.

As an athlete at the Special Olympics Utah Summer Games, she decided to take advantage of a free massage. But in order to receive it, Batchelor had to earn it first by getting her ears checked.

The 22-year-old athlete with mental disabilities said she was excited about the massage but wasn't so energetic about the hearing test.

"It's OK. I've had my ears checked before," she said after a volunteer tested her inner ear for fluids.

About 1,400 athletes and coaches are participating in the games, which are being held at Brigham Young University through today. Kick-off events were Thursday.

This is the first year Utah has held a hearing clinic as part of the Healthy Athletes program of the Special Olympics, said Dr. David McPherson, the state coordinator for the Healthy Athletes-Hearing program of the Special Olympics. The state is piloting a follow-up program that will be implemented nationwide in the fall, he said.

The Healthy Athletes program was set up to identify critical health issues of disabled athletes. This year, they are targeting athletes' hearing, McPherson said.

People with disabilities generally have more problems with hearing loss than the rest of the population, said McPherson, who is also a professor of audiology and speech-language pathology at Brigham Young University.

In a public school, about 30 percent of the students have some form of hearing loss due to ear infections and other complications, he said. McPherson said he expects about 55 percent hearing loss in the athletes they are checking at the summer games. This is because the disabled individuals don't get their hearing checked as often once they are out of the public school system, he said.

"Health care only occurs when there's obvious need. When you go to the physician for a fever, you don't get a hearing test," McPherson said.

About 40 volunteers through the three-day summer games will be checking the athletes' hearing. The volunteers are mostly students from BYU, the University of Utah and Utah State University in the field of hearing.

Volunteers had checked the hearing of about 200 athletes by early Friday afternoon.

The athletes lined up in chairs outside the hearing test tent to get massages. By the end of the games, about 30 people, mostly from the Utah College of Massage Therapy, will have volunteered by giving massages. Some athletes come back three or four times, said Daniel Olsen, a massage therapist and classroom manager for the massage therapy school.

Volunteers are hoping to test the hearing of about 1,000 athletes by the time the summer games are completed today, said Stacey Adams, Healthy Athletes coordinator.

"Coaches are really making sure their athletes are on top of it," she said.

Healthy Athletes will be sending letters to the parents of the athletes in the next 30 days if a hearing problem is suspected. Thirty days after that, volunteers also will be calling to see if the athletes have visited with a professional and if so, what the results of the visit were, McPherson said.

If the athlete has not visited with a hearing professional, McPherson said they will be invited to the speech and hearing clinic at BYU to get a follow-up check and hearing counseling.

To this point, Healthy Athletes programs have never followed up to see if the athletes were getting treatment after the hearing clinic, McPherson said.

Tammy McPherson can be reached at 344-2559 or This story appeared in The Daily Herald on page D1.

© 2004 The Daily Herald