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September 30, 2005

Breaking through the sound barrier: Technology returns the gift of hearing to Muscatine man

From: Muscatine Journal - Muscatine,IA,USA - Sep 30, 2005

By Cynthia Beaudette of the Muscatine Journal

MUSCATINE, Iowa - Brooklyn Heuer doesn't need to use sign language to communicate with her dad any more, but sometimes the 8-year-old Muscatine resident forgets.

Brooklyn was 4 when she first learned to sign so that her dad, Jamie Heuer, could understand her better. Jamie, 37, lost his hearing 41⁄2 years ago following successful treatment for leukemia, a side effect of the medication, but he didn't let it become a setback.

With the cooperation of his wife, Tracy, and his staff, Jamie continued running his business, Heuer Construction. He used special technology, refined his ability to read lips and learned sign language.

Brooklyn became so adept at the silent form of communication that she used it in the talent portion of her campaign for Little Miss Muscatine in 2003.

"She sang 'You are my Sunshine,'" Tracy, 34, recalled. "And also signed the words for her dad."

Tuesday afternoon, Jamie leaned back in his easy chair and smiled as he listened to his daughter and wife describe the way everyone worked to overcome his hearing loss. And his enthusiasm was just as evident when he discussed the joy he's rediscovered since his hearing was restored this summer.

"They finally rebuilt me," he said.

Jamie underwent a surgery called a cochlear implant at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics on April 29.

A cochlear implant is a small electronic device that provides a sense of sound by directly stimulating undamaged nerve fibers in the inner ear. A removable headset completes the connection.

Brooklyn said being able to simply talk to her dad is exciting, but old habits are hard to break. She still begins some of their conversations by signing, and that's a skill that will always come in handy, she said.

"Sometimes, when his batteries go dead, he can't hear as well," she said.

Jamie can't hear when he isn't wearing his headset either.

"It's the best of both worlds," he said. "At night, I can take it off and sleep and I can't hear the dogs barking. I can't hear anything."

Music still gives Jamie some difficulty. If he already knew a song before he lost his hearing, it comes in more clearly. However, music he is hearing for the first time sounds like a lot of noise, he said. Jamie said he doesn't know why this occurs, but doctors told him other patients with the cochlear im-plants have similar experiences.

But he isn't complaining.

"I went to a meeting the other day with six other guys," Jamie said. "And I could chime right in and talk!"

Beth Lanfier, office manager for Heuer Construction for the past six years, said she still feels emotional when she thinks about the first days after Jamie's hearing was restored.

"It's just a miracle," she said.

Lanfier said Jamie's ability to hear again has also made her job easier.

"He can handle all his own phone calls," she said. "It makes my job smoother when people can talk to him directly and he gets things first hand."

Jamie said this recent surgery is another step on a ladder of miracles since he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2000 and his brother, Bret Heuer, donated bone marrow to help him defeat the disease.

Jamie received Bret's bone marrow on Sept. 5, 2000, five months after he was diagnosed with leukemia. The operation was followed by remission of the disease that continues to this day.

But that didn't end Jamie's medical problems. Following the bone marrow transplant, Jamie endured a 28-day coma, and medications he was given during that ordeal damaged his kidneys.

When doctors recommended a kidney transplant, Bret, who is a year older than Jamie, offered one of his kidneys. On May 26, 2004, doctors at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics completed another successful transplant between the brothers.

Jamie said so many people have been good to him throughout his surgeries and health concerns that he wouldn't want to name some and exclude others. He also credits the restoration of his health to the power of faith.

"It's a miracle," said Jamie. "Jesus Christ is the reason I'm here today."

Lanfier said Jamie's attitude also brought him a long way.

"He's a fighter," said Lanfier. "When many would say 'why me?' and feel pity for themselves, he always looked on the bright side."

Tracy said Jamie's experiences have led him to make her and the couple's children a higher priority. Their other children are Tarah, 16, and Jarrett, 5.

"Before, work was No. 1," said Tracy. "Now it's family."

Contact Cynthia Beaudette at 563-263-2331 (ext. 323) or

© 2005, Muscatine Journal, Muscatine, IA A Lee Enterprises subsidiary