Huskers expand humanitarian audiology program

Huskers expand humanitarian audiology program

A University of Nebraska–Lincoln research team is focused on strengthening HearU International, a second-year program that provides audiology services in Nicaragua.

Led by Stacie Ray and Hannah Ditmars, both faculty in special education and communication disorders, six graduate students from Nebraska’s doctor of audiology program are participating in HearU International’s second annual study abroad trip to the country. The group, which departed July 25 and returns Aug. 6, will provide hearing assistance to as many new patients as possible while offering follow-up care for individuals helped on the inaugural trip in 2016.

“The biggest thing for us is sustainability,” said Ray, an associate professor of practice. “We’re not going to go there and serve this population, then walk away. We need them to know that we’re going to stick with them and we’re going to be there at least once a year to serve their needs. And we need to train people who can help them in between when we’re not there. That’s the most important component of humanitarian audiology.”

Launched in 2007 by Ray and five other special education and communication disorders faculty, HearU initially provided hearing aids to Nebraska children whose families could not otherwise afford them. The program expanded a year ago to assist individuals in Central America.

“This year we need batteries for everyone we fit with hearing aids last year,” Ditmars said. “Things like trying to supply batteries for everyone is going to grow exponentially really quickly because they just don’t have access to things like that.”

Each individual assisted on the 2017 trip will receive a year’s supply of batteries. The group will also fit 88 individuals with hearing aids, which were purchased with a $5,000 grant from Seretoma International and private HearU International donations.

The 88 hearing aids will be used during the first week in León, where the students will primarily see patients at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua medical campus. While there, the group from Nebraska will work with and help train two individuals who are working on becoming certified audiometric technicians.

“They have a really nice space that has air conditioning and a small sound booth,” Ditmars said. “And we’ll have a couple rooms there so we can do testing and fit hearing aids there. Then the two audio technicians are going to provide follow-up when we’re not there.”

The group will also spend a day at the León School for the Deaf to provide follow-up care for all of the students they have previously seen, as well as test new students.

The second week of the trip will be spent in Jinotega, working more directly with Mayflower Medical Outreach, which has established an Ear, Nose, Throat clinic in the city. The Nebraska group will work alongside two certified audiometric technicians to fit as many hearing aids as possible at that location. Mayflower Medical Outreach is supplying the hearing aids for Jinotega.

Last year, the group also spent time in Quezalguaque, a town of about 8,000 people near León. Ray and Ditmars have been unsuccessful in reconnecting with their main contact in that town, but are hoping to still serve those individuals.

“Hopefully our interpreter will be able to get in touch with someone in Quezalguaque to at least let people know we are in León so if they’re having issues they can come see us there to be served,” Ray said.