The World at a Whisper - Karen Batista
A happy, giggly third-grader, Karen Batista is bilingual in Spanish and English, and excels in school. But this hasn’t always been the case. Just two short years ago, Karen’s first-grade teacher realized that something was amiss with the quiet, shy little girl who always sat in the front row. Says Karen’s mother, Caritina, “Her teacher would speak directly to her and she wouldn’t respond. She didn’t even turn her head when teachers said her name.” At home, Caritina noticed that Karen didn’t speak much and when she did, did not articulate well, but didn’t know why.
At the teacher’s urging, Caritina took Karen to a county clinic where an on-staff hearing specialist detected that Karen suffered from hearing loss in both ears: mild to moderately severe in her right ear and mild to moderate in her left ear. This meant that Karen heard normal conversation at less than a whisper—and explained her lack of language skills. The clinic, along with California Children’s Services (CCS), referred the family to the Pediatric Audiology Service at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to verify the diagnosis and fit her with hearing aids. In fitting Karen with state-of-the-art digital hearing aids in both ears, the Audiology Service at LPCH gained a lifelong patient. “We came to the Audiology Service to get Karen’s hearing aids and never left. We love the staff here. They are like family to us,” says Caritina.
One of the primary factors in the family’s decision to stay at the Audiology Service at LPCH was that some of the audiologists and all of the support staff members speak Spanish. Because Karen is the only English-speaker in her family, this was a huge consideration in where Karen would receive medical care for her hearing loss. “The audiologists speak Spanish, so we can communicate with each other well. This helps me understand what they recommend for Karen, and I can make better decisions for her,” explains Caritina.
Possibly more important than the communication aspect is that the staff members at the Audiology Service at LPCH do more than just fit and adjust Karen’s hearing aids. They have become her advocates in her school and her community. “Karen’s audiologist is very concerned that Karen receives all the services she needs at school, and that everything she needs in order to facilitate her hearing problem is in place,” says Caritina. “For example, a speaker system has been placed in her classroom and the teacher wears a microphone at all times so that Karen can hear what she is saying. Without the help of the audiologists at LPCH, this wouldn’t have happened. I didn’t even know I could request this.”
In addition, Karen’s audiologist ensures that she receives regular speech evaluations at school. These evaluations not only help monitor Karen’s learning progress, but also they can be an ‘early warning’ system for any hearing degradation or issues with her hearing aids. The Audiology Service at LPCH also helped Karen’s family find financial assistance for her hearing aids, which are very expensive. “The audiologists at LPCH helped us work with the CCS program to cover 100% of the cost of the hearing aids,” says Caritina. “Without this assistance, we wouldn’t have been able to get Karen the help she needs to succeed and learn.”
Today, two years after the initial placement of the hearing aids, Karen’s progress in school is noticeable to all. “She wasn’t speaking either Spanish or English very well because she wasn’t hearing others speak, so she wasn’t picking up language skills. Today, she is fluent in both languages and speaks very well,” says Caritina. “And her performance in other subjects, such as math, science, even music, has improved too, because she can hear the teachers’ instructions.”
Caritina says that her daughter has become more outgoing, thanks to the hearing aids. “Before, Karen was a bit shy and very quiet. Now we know that was because she wasn’t hearing well and couldn’t fully participate in school and the family. Today, she’s happy, smiles a lot, and expresses herself more. We have the Audiology Service at LPCH to thank for that!”