Technology gives hearing back to Kasilof boy

Posted: Monday, August 28, 2000

'It's like the difference between an old 8-track tape and a CD, as far as sound

Begins has a whole new world to hear.

For the first time in many years, he can hear clearly the voices of his family and friends, the wind in the trees, singing birds and music. Thanks to a new high-tech hearing aid, all of these sounds, which most of us take for granted, have become a new experience for him.

No one knows why Paul originally lost his hearing. His mother, Lil Begins, said he didn't seem to have a problem until he was 4 years old.

'It's like the difference between an old 8-track tape and a CD, as far as sound quality goes. It was real exciting to put them on him and watch his reaction.'

--Karen Martin, audiologist at Peninsula Hearing services

"Then he began to have trouble hearing," she said. "He kept asking us to repeat things when we talked to him and always wanted the volume turned up on the TV."

The problem grew worse, and eventually the family took Paul to a series of doctors for tests on his hearing. They determined he definitely had a substantial hearing loss but could not figure out why.

"Possibly it was some kind of nerve damage," Lil said. "But he was never sick and never had any ear infections."

Whatever the reason, young Paul was fitted with a pair of hearing aids, of the large old-fashioned type that hang over the ears. They worked well and were durable and dependable, but Paul didn't like wearing them and was upset by other children who teased him.

He got a new set of hearing aids when he was 12, the type that fit inside the ear canal and are not visible from outside. While these new hearing aids may have kept him from being teased, they didn't work as well.

"He always had trouble with one or the other of them," said Lil. "They actually made his hearing worse."

It was through the repairs on these hearing aids that the family met Karen Martin, an audiologist at Peninsula Hearing Services.

"They first came here in 1997," Martin said. "His mother was always bringing his hearing aids in for repairs, at least 15 times since then. But the manufacturer wouldn't replace them. We've been trying to get him something better since day one."

Finally, Paul was able to get new digital hearing aids -- a recent breakthrough in technology that is a major improvement over previous devices.

"It's like the difference between an old 8-track tape and a CD, as far as sound quality goes," said Martin. "It was real exciting to put them on him and watch his reaction."

The new hearing aids enabled Paul to hear all sorts of sounds he'd never been able to hear before. They automatically adjust to different sound levels, amplifying softer tones and filtering out distracting background noise.

"Paul's hearing is such that if he's not facing you, he couldn't hear you," said Lil. "He reads lips real well because he's had to do that all his life."

At first, she could not quite believe what a difference the new hearing aids had made to her son.

"He came to my office after he got them, and I was talking real soft, and I thought he was just reading my lips. But no, he could hear me even when he wasn't looking at me or when I covered my mouth."

His new ability to hear has changed Paul's life and will help him as he moves into the future. He graduated from Skyview High School in June and will attend Oregon State University, majoring in chemical engineering.

"He always had difficulty in school," said Lil. "He had to sit at the front of the class, and the teachers had to face him when they talked. He usually had to stay after class and ask the teacher what he'd missed."

Now he won't have do that and can be more involved in life.

Though the new hearing aids have dramatically helped Paul, Martin said they aren't for everyone, and they are very expensive, costing up to $5,000. Unfortun-ately, most insurance won't cover that cost. At any cost, however, Paul and his family feel it's worth it.

"It's given him a whole new feel for his surroundings," said Lil. "We are forever grateful for the opportunity this has given him."

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