Victoria at a follow-up visit with Catherine Charouhas, a staff nurse practitioner at Venice Family Clinic. "From the minute I got the hearing aid, my life completely changed," she says. Photo: Margaret Molloy
"Life Is Beautiful When You Can Hear"

Last November, Venice Family Clinic’s Medical Director, Dr. Karen Lamp, sent an e-mail to her clinical staff with some very good news. Clinic volunteer ear-nose-throat specialist and Board member Dr. Chester Griffiths had secured an unprecedented donation of free hearing aids for patients with serious hearing loss through one of the partners in his private practice, Dr. Gregory Frazer.

“It’s a fabulous thing,” Dr. Lamp proclaimed.

It didn’t take long for the news to reach Victoria Mendez, 45.

“She was the first person I thought of,” says Catherine Charouhas, one of Venice Family Clinic’s five staff nurse practitioners. Charouhas had been treating Victoria for almost ten years and knew how profound her hearing loss had been, as well as how rare an offer like Dr. Frazer’s was.

“Hearing aids are very expensive, thousands of dollars,” Charouhas explains. “Only a few patients are lucky enough to get one through a County hospital, and even then the wait time can be more than a year, plus the three to six months just to be seen by an ENT specialist.”

Victoria’s hearing loss began at the age of five after multiple infections in both ears. By the age of ten, she was living in another world.

“I saw people moving their mouths but I didn’t know what they were saying,” she explains. “I was desperate. I was anxious.”

Still, on the surface she led an ordinary life, eventually marrying and giving birth to two boys. For a while she even worked at a convalescent home, but her hearing impairment forced her to quit.

“I became so isolated and frustrated,” she says. “I didn't even want people to speak to me because I knew I wouldn't be able to understand them.”

Then came her January visit with Dr. Frazer.

“From the minute I got the hearing aid, my life completely changed,” she says. “It was like a new beginning. It helped me come out of my isolation. I can hear my kids now, and there’s so much more communication between us.”

It also helped her complete her nursing assistant certification and get a new job at a nursing home.

The initiative is funded by Pacific Eye & Ear Specialists Group and the Starkey Hearing Foundation. There is no limit on the number of patients Venice Family Clinic can refer.

“It is particularly important in this economy for us to be able to offer services and products to every person who walks through our doors,” Dr. Frazer says, “and this program has allowed us to do that.”

It may have come just in time for Victoria. At a follow-up visit with Charouhas in April, she mentioned that her mother had passed away the week before. Perhaps because she was finally able to hear her mother after 40 years of near silence, Victoria seemed upbeat.

“Life is beautiful when you can hear,” she says.

This story appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Encounters. Click here to download the entire newsletter as a PDF.

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