In November 2002, a BYU audiology team of four professors and four graduate students traveled to Hanoi, Vietnam. The eighteen-day medical mission was headed by Dr. David McPherson, chair of the Audiology and Speech Language Pathology Department. The BYU team was part of a larger medical mission called Project Vietnam— a humanitarian aid organization that brings medical assistance to rural areas of Vietnam. The larger sixty-nine member team consisted of volunteer pediatricians, plastic surgeons, ophthalmologists, nurses, and physical therapists from all over the United States. The purpose of the trip was to provide medical aid to those who could not otherwise afford the treatment. Funding for the BYU participants was provided through many sources, including the David O. McKay Department of Education and Division Four of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Avoiding Trauma Through Early Testing
McPherson and Richard Harris, audiologists at BYU, trained Vietnamese physicians, nurses, and other medical staff about the repercussions of hearing loss and taught the medical personnel how to fit people with hearing aids. McPherson and Harris also brought materials to help the Vietnamese establish a self-sustaining program so more people could receive the help they need to hear properly. One of their patients, a twenty-one-year-old Vietnamese girl, was fitted with hearing aids and could hear for the first time. She hadn’t had money or access to equipment to properly test and fit hearing aids, and she hadn’t been able to communicate verbally with her family. The hearing aids will change her life. She had been dismissed from school due to her hearing loss and will now be able to obtain an education. Her father feels that now she will be more socially accepted in their small, traditional village.
Children born with a hearing loss and not fit with hearing devices at a young age not only experience difficulties communicating verbally but are also at risk for academic, social, and emotional problems. In the United States, these children are usually at least one to two grades behind. Socially, they are left out because they cannot understand the communication going on around them. For children in Vietnam, these repercussions may be worse because they may never have the opportunity to receive hearing aids.
In most of the United States, babies are screened for hearing loss before they leave the hospital. If they fail the screening, they are rescreened a few days later. More advanced testing is used if they fail the screening the second time. If a baby continues to fail the hearing tests, he will be fitted with hearing aids when he is three months old. If children are properly fitted at a young age, the risk of later academic, social, and emotional problems is dramatically reduced. Hearing screening is often a low priority in developing countries, such as Vietnam, because of the limited funding for the equipment and medical training.