Students from the College of Allied Health Sciences learned how to work with few supplies and in small quarters this summer, after traveling to an Appalachian community for a service trip fitting hearing aids on underserved residents.
Five UC audiology graduate students spent three days in Beverly, Ky., an Appalachian community in Southeastern Kentucky, as part of a Hear the World service trip.
Hear the World, a foundation created by hearing aid manufacturer Phonak, partners with Beverly-based nonprofit Red Bird Mission four times a year to provide hearing screenings and free aids to residents. This past trip in July included student volunteers from UC, the University of Akron, and Indiana University.
During two days of their stay, the group fit over 90 hearing impaired individuals with a set of free hearing aids. Individuals drove as far as three hours for the service. The third day included a health fair at the town’s K-12 school, where Red Bird volunteers provided hearing screenings and other health care services.
Each day began at 7:30 a.m. and lasted into the evening, packed full with patients and walk-ins.
"A typical hearing aid fitting takes an hour,” says Ashley Vandlik, a clinical doctorate of audiology student. "With multiple fitting stations and supportive volunteers, we were able to complete five fittings an hour.
Working in the Red Bird medical clinic students had to improvise to accommodate the lines of patients.
"They didn’t have a sound room, so we set up in a closet,” remembers doctoral student Elicia Pillion. "They were running out of space, so we took over a laundry room. You learn how to find a way to do things there.”
Many patients seen on this trip have been waiting for months, or years, to receive the donated devices. Once fit with the hearing aids, each patient receives 10 packs of batteries and a postage-paid box to send back to the manufacturer in case the hearing aids break or need repair.
This was the second year for UC students to attend the Red Bird Mission trip. Last year’s effort began at the suggestion of Robert Keith, PhD, a professor emeritus in the department of communication sciences and disorders. Since then, Pillion has worked with UC’s chapter of the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) to organize the trip and supervise volunteers.
"We’re also starting to fundraise for next year’s trip,” says Vandlik, who serves as president of UC’s SAA chapter. " A $500 donation provides a set of hearing aids, batteries, and maintenance at no cost to the patient. The money that we raise will go to purchasing these hearing aids.
Pillion, whose family is from the area, says she hopes to continue on the trips and feels a deep connection to the community.
"Some of the cases are just so emotional,” she says. "You have people being fit with hearing aids who have been isolated because of their hearing loss for years. They’ll bring their families with them—and they’re all crying, they’re so happy that they are hearing again.”
UC’s Chapter of the Student Academy of Audiology will host a wine tasting from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 29, at Neal’s Design & Remodel, 7770 East Kemper Road. If you are interested in supporting their cause, please email Vandlik at firstname.lastname@example.org or Pillion at email@example.com.