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April 17, 2006

Helping children hear

From: Miami Herald - FL,USA - Apr 17, 2006

Adopting a medically holistic approach, audiologists Ana Dausa and Robert Fifer work with children and their families at UM's Mailman Center for Child


Special to The Miami Herald

Audiologists Ana Dausa and Robert Fifer bring a special sensitivity to the deaf and hearing-impaired children they work with at the Mailman Center for Child Development at the University of Miami.

They both recognize that hearing loss affects not just children, but also their families.

''Our approach here is holistic,'' says Dausa, coordinator for the infant hearing program at the center. ``We want to try to train and educate the families, mainly so that they can make decisions that are correct for their needs and the child's needs.''

Key to their job is being sensitive to the family's reaction to the child's condition, which may range from denial to grief to anger.

Fifer, who is the center's director of audiology and speech pathology, says his empathy stems from his own experience. Born with a cleft palate, he says he lived in a world of ''communication frustration'' during 12 years of speech therapy and several reconstructive surgeries he underwent to treat his condition.

''I was on the receiving end of communication disorders for quite a while,'' says Fifer, who is also an adjunct associate professor of pediatrics and otolaryngology at the University of Miami School of Medicine. ``So I literally grew up in this field.''

Dedicated to helping others with similar communication disorders, Fifer began studying speech-language pathology in 1974 at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He later received a master's in audiology at Central Michigan University, then a Ph.D in audiology and bioacoustics at Baylor College of Medicine in 1985.


Fifer helped bring to the Mailman Center cochlear implants, which are surgically implanted devices that electrically stimulate the hearing nerve in the inner ear. The devices' average cost is about $40,000, and the procedure often is covered by insurance.

This approach to dealing with impaired hearing is not without controversy. Many deaf people take pride in their uniqueness, so they disdain efforts to surgically ''fix'' hearing loss. They regard their condition not as a disability, but rather as a part of their identity.

''The controversy is not whether the device works,'' Fifer says. ``The controversy is whether or not it works too well.''

For her part, Dausa, a Cuban immigrant, came to audiology in 1985 through a fascination with sign language.


Since obtaining a master's degree in audiology from the University of Florida, Dausa has enjoyed the challenges of working in Miami and dealing with the culture and language of families from diverse ethnic backgrounds.

As coordinator for the infant hearing program at the Mailman Center, she is part of the early intervention program. She works on a team that tests about 6,000 babies a year. The screening program is the first step toward making sure that children's problems are caught early so that experts can begin working on solutions.

One important cultural factor that Dausa has found in Miami is the level of trust Latins place in their medical practitioners.

''It varies, but the Latin families tend to heavily depend on us for everything,'' says Dausa. ``So when you present the information to them, they really follow through, and as professionals we really need to sit back and listen to what they are saying.''

© 2006 and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.