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May 3, 2007

A walk 4 the deaf

From: Longmont Daily Times-Call - Longmont,CO,USA - May 3, 2007

Local couple helps organize a walk for hearing loss

By Susan Glairon
The Daily Times-Call

LONGMONT — When she was 5, Sue Gossett prayed for God to restore her hearing.

Fifty years later, her prayers were answered when she received a cochlear implant, a device that electronically finds useful sounds and sends them to the brain. She clearly remembers cross-country skiing for the first time after her implant and hearing a sound she had never heard before: snow swishing under her skis.

“It was fascinating,” said Gossett, 72. “It was better than I had dreamed.”

Gossett’s hearing loss was profound, and when she was a child, her parents sought help for the problem. She started wearing a hearing aid when she was 7 and received the cochlear implant in her mid-50s after her hearing became so poor that a hearing aid, which only amplifies sound, no longer helped.

But most people don’t deal with their hearing problems, experts say.

Those with less severe hearing loss — usually those who gradually lose their hearing as they get older — wait an average of seven years before seeking help, according to the Hearing Loss Association of America. In the United States, 31 million people are hard of hearing, and 75 percent of people who could benefit from hearing aids do not use them.

Dr. Sandra Gabbard, director of audiology at the Marion Downs Hearing Center at University of Colorado Hospital, said most people who refuse to get help associate hearing loss with old age, even though hearing loss can occur at any age.

Those who don’t get help tend to isolate themselves from friends and avoid social outings such as going to restaurants because it’s too hard to hear, she said. Those who get help function much better.

“The saddest consequence is that people isolate themselves when they begin to have trouble hearing clearly,” Gabbard said. “Hearing well is a quality-of-life issue.”

Gabbard says now is a good time to “come out of the closet” and get tested. In Longmont, as in other places across the country, walks sponsored by the Hearing Loss Association of America are being staged this month to bring attention to the huge numbers of people affected by hearing loss. The Longmont walk will take place Sunday at McIntosh Lake.

Another reason people often don’t seek help is because hearing aids, which cost between $1,000 and $4,000 apiece, are not covered by insurance or Medicare. Medicaid covers them only for children.

But those who demonstrate they need a hearing aid may be eligible for financial assistance through foundations.

Medical insurance, Medicare and Medicaid cover hearing tests, and those with hearing problems must have an audiology test before they can be referred to a foundation that can help with the cost, Gabbard said. Low-income Colorado residents with hearing loss also may qualify for specialized telephones. For details, call the Telephone Distribution Equipment Program at 720-848-2970 or visit Marion Downs Hearing Center.

“If someone in your family thinks you might have a hearing loss — even if you don’t — it’s a good time to get tested,” Gabbard said.

Most hearing loss is caused by gradual damage to the hair cells of the inner ear and the hearing nerve. There is no medical treatment for that type of damage. The only choice is to wear a hearing aid, which amplifies sound.

Treatable conditions include hearing loss caused by trauma to the ear, chronic ear infections or, occasionally, tumors or growths that can be removed.

At age 4, Gossett lost all her hearing in her left ear and half in her right following a very high fever after having her tonsils removed, she said. At age 7, she became the first person in Alabama to receive a hearing aid. Over the years, her hearing gradually declined to the point that, at age 55, a hearing aid no longer helped.

Most people don’t have severe enough hearing loss to benefit from a cochlear implant. In 1990, Gossett received one at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Denver. She received a second cochlear implant through a research program last September.

Even after the first implant, she was thrilled by the results.

“(My hearing) was a thousand times better,” she said. “After 50 years, I could hear again.”

Susan Glairon can be contacted at 303-684-5224 or

© 2007 Daily Times-Call.