Reaching thousands with the gift of hearing
Two Queensland clinicians joined the largest Starkey Hearing Foundation mission Asia-Pacific has seen so far. Here, they share their account of their time in Indonesia, caring for 2,500 locals in need.
Marguerite Dunstan, audiologist, ihear Toowoomba, and Paula Sieler, audiometrist, ihear Coorparoo, teamed up with other Starkey Hearing Foundation members from around Asia for a five-day hearing mission last month.
Landing in Jakarta, the team set off for the ABDI Hearing Centre, joining Mrs Tani Austin, the Foundation’s co-founder, to learn about the WFA fitting method. This is a special sustainable fitting method designed by Starkey for patients in the developing world with limited ongoing access to care and technology.
“I finished the first day feeling too excited to sleep. I couldn’t wait to start the next morning!” said Marguerite.
Day two saw Marguerite, Paula and team descend on ‘base camp’ for the next three days — a large concrete car park under a double-storey building in inner-city Jakarta.
The first task of the mission? Taking the tabs off 1,000 batteries, ready to insert them into 1,000 hearing aids! The ladies report that by day five, their fingertips and nails were acclimatised! Outside, patients are arriving, waiting in the shade for their miracle to occur.
Foundation co-founder, William F. Austin rallies the troops with a pep talk, before the clinical day begins. Words that stuck with the Queensland pair were: “Alone we can’t do much. Together, we can change the world.”
“Nothing could have prepared us for the rollercoaster of emotions that was to follow. Most of the people we saw that day were in desperate need of hearing rehabilitation, from tiny babies to a very elderly gentleman who spoke an outdated Javanese dialect that our young interpreters couldn’t understand.”
The team base their fittings on observation and communication. Many of the recipients had been identified locally as having hearing loss and advised that signing would be their primary form of communication.
“It’s only once we fit them, we establish that their loss is not consistent with the need for signing. If fitted appropriately and given some basic training, they could develop relatively normal speech and language. My heart breaks for their loss of opportunity,” Marguerite said.
“This is not unique to Indonesia, which means that what the Foundation is doing is so important!”
Each day followed a similar routine, presenting the group with more heartwarming stories.
“At night, Paula and I would reflect on our photos from the day. One memorable patient was a 41-year old teacher. We were fitting during a storm, and she couldn’t recall the last time she heard the rain. We all held each other and cried.”
“By helping her hear better, hopefully we are helping her students, who in turn help their families and their whole community. One small act has a major ripple effect.”
After caring for more than 2,500 patients over three days in Jakarta and two in Bandung, the SHF team sadly bid each other farewell.
“Before landing in Indonesia, I considered my heart to be full. I have a loving family and a wonderful support network of friends. I work with the best team and I love my job. But now my heart is overflowing. I can’t wait to do this again!” said Marguerite.