The Audiology department at the University of Kansas Medical Center (KUMC) has participated in a medical mission trip for the past few years. Our mission trip consisted of working six days while the last day we were able to take advantage of the local activities and culture. The medical group that we traveled with consisted of Urology, ENT, PACU, Audiology, Pharmacy, Hospitalist, Medical Students, CRNA, and Registered Nurses. The facility that we worked at for the week was the Obras Sociales del Hermano Pedro. It is a hospital that was founded in 1663. It serves as a multi-service facility providing a home and care for the elderly, orphaned, mentally challenged, and chronically ill. The hospital also houses several functional operating rooms.
The first day of the mission trip, we spent most of the morning setting up equipment and stations. We utilized three audiometers, a tympanometry machine, an OAE screener, and toys for VRA and CPA. We had a table set up to take case histories, a table for otoscopy, tympanometry and cerumen removal equipment, another table for earmold impression material and tools, and a table for the hearing aid programming equipment. Our testing took place right outside of an open courtyard area where children were often playing. This presented many challenges as the noise levels varied at times, making it more time consuming to get accurate results. The first day, we saw patients and tested their hearing so they could have surgery later in the week.
A typical workday for us consisted of arriving at the clinic around 7:30am and preparing for the constant flow of patients, many who would travel for days to seek our services. Our day usually ended around 5:30pm or when we had seen our last scheduled patient.
This was the most rewarding experience of my life. Many of the pediatric patients we saw had lost their hearing due to an illness or injury. Many of them presented with severe hearing losses, which affected their ability to develop speech or language. I remember one case where a seven-year-old boy was tested. Upon parental report, he did not respond to his parent’s voices and barely turned when presented with a loud sound. The only words he could say were “papa” and “mama.” He had pneumonia and frequent fevers for two years and then lost much of his hearing. After putting hearing aids on him, his eyes lit up and he smiled every time his parents would say something to him. The parents started tearing up because their son was finally interacting with them and trying to repeat what they said. At the end of our visit, he ran around and gave all of us a hug and a thumbs up. That moment really solidified the trip and made all of the long hours and hard work worthwhile.
Although it was exciting to see all of the children’s reactions to hearing for the first time, I still loved seeing the smiles and excitement of those older individuals who were able to hear with amplification for the first time in decades.
The most challenging aspect of the trip was communicating with the local population who spoke Spanish. We had two or three interpreters working with our group and two of the audiology students spoke fluent Spanish, which was an awesome asset to our team. Even though there was a language barrier, we were still able to interact successfully with the help of interpreters, and build the rapport necessary to establish positive patient care.
Another area that made the trip rewarding was the kindness and gratitude the patients continually demonstrated even after waiting for many hours for their appointment. They were so thankful for all services received and would frequently bless us with their traditional religious blessings. Thanks to generous donations, each patient, child or adult, was sent home with a “goodie bag” containing a tooth brush, tooth paste, a stuffed animal or two, and hearing aid supplies.
Overall, between the five audiology students, we completed 137 hearing tests, fit 36 hearing aids on children, fit 106 hearing aids on adults and saw a total of 173 patients, fitting a total of 142 hearing aids. That’s a busy week!
We want to thank ReSound for donating 30 new BTE hearing aids and batteries in order to help reach our goal of helping as many people as possible. It was definitely a success and we were thrilled to be a part of a rewarding mission trip.