“95% of parents who are confronted with early childhood hearing loss have no prior exposure to hearing loss. Although this is a frightening process, the earlier you have a diagnosis, the better.”
Andi Hill is the mother of three children—Jessica, Julianne and Jared—who were all born profoundly deaf and who, thanks to medical technology, utilize cochlear implants to hear, listen, and speak. Andi and her husband Steve have been generous donors and friends of Huntsville Hospital Foundation for many years. Andi was instrumental in the 2010 development of Huntsville Hospital’s Pediatric Audiology Department—a comprehensive center that addresses the needs of North Alabama infants and children with suspected hearing loss.
When Andi and Steve suspected hearing loss with their oldest daughter Jessica, there were no pediatric audiologists in Huntsville. After traveling all the way to Pennsylvania for an accurate diagnosis, they became passionate about paving the way for other families in our area to have access to top specialists and resources closer to home. Since 2010, Andi and Steve have helped ensure the continued existence, growth and development of the Pediatric Audiology Department at Huntsville Hospital through their own personal contributions, and by advocating on behalf of the Foundation and encouraging others to support the program.
May is Better Hearing and Speech Month—the perfect opportunity to bring awareness to Andi’s story of strength and advocacy.
Q: How would a parent’s experience today be different than yours thanks to the Huntsville Hospital Pediatric Audiology Department?
A: There were no audiologists in Huntsville with a pediatric specialty at the time; so unfortunately, our oldest daughter was misdiagnosed as having more hearing than she actually did. We lost precious time in her early developmental years—ones which are critical to the development of listening, language and speech skills—because the hearing aids we had purchased were not right for the realities of her hearing loss.
Today’s parents have the advantages of mandatory Newborn Hearing Screenings, which were voluntarily implemented at Huntsville Hospital in 2000, and became part of the mandatory Newborn Screening Panel for the state of Alabama in 2008. I’m thrilled to say our community was one of the first in the state to offer Newborn Hearing Screening, and I’m grateful Huntsville Hospital chose to be so progressive upon recognizing the needs and benefits this screening offers.
Q: Why are you passionate about giving to the Pediatric Audiology Department?
A: We made 500 round trips to and from the comprehensive pediatric audiology and speech therapy center in Birmingham with our first two children. We made many sacrifices so they could receive the appropriate audiology and Auditory-Verbal Therapy services that we believed gave them the best opportunities to develop their potential. For us, that meant each child using technological hearing solutions to listen, speak and thrive.
Our family still feels very blessed we could make the choices we did, and we wanted others to have similar opportunities. It was a deeply held dream of mine to see a comprehensive center in Huntsville that could serve the needs of infants and children who are deaf or hard of hearing. From our own journey, I knew that the resources necessary for families to help their children needed to be more accessible geographically. Recognizing the needs families had here fueled my passion for working to improve the lives of area infants and children who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Huntsville Hospital’s Pediatric Audiology Department, with the testing, therapy and treatment options it offers, is about far more than essential medical services. It’s about offering hope, empowering parents in the face of adversity and encouraging each child to reach his or her potential.
Q: Why is it important that Huntsville residents have access to this technology and treatment?
A: Because time is of the essence! There are so many important developmental milestones infants achieve in the first three years of life, and many they achieve in the first year. Having access to the testing, technology and treatments Huntsville Hospital Pediatric Audiology Department offers means that services are available here, at one of Alabama’s major birthing centers, to effectively manage and treat pediatric hearing loss. Parents do not have to make long trips to access the critical services their child desperately needs … That reduces the stress and logistical difficulties of an already very difficult circumstance.
Q: What else should parents and the community know about early childhood hearing loss?
A: It is so important to capitalize on all the advantages offered by Newborn Hearing Screening and pediatric diagnostic audiology. Our younger two children’s journeys were much shorter and less complicated because they got such an early start. Because their hearing losses were accurately diagnosed in the first two weeks of life by appropriately qualified pediatric audiologists, they were hearing with hearing aids in the first month of life and had cochlear implants at the earliest possible ages. Cochlear implants offered Jared and Julianne the capacity to hear very well and optimally benefit from Auditory Verbal Therapy and all we were doing at home. Because of that, their journey from silence to sound to spoken language communication was much shorter than it was for their older sister.
While the circumstance our family has faced with no history of deafness but all three children being born with severe-profound sensorineural hearing loss is extremely rare, our story highlights the positive outcomes possible for children with hearing loss today. All three kids have been very successful using technological hearing solutions to listen, speak and thrive in the mainstream. Jessica graduated with honors from high school and college, and is in the second year of her studies to complete her doctorate in Physical Therapy; Jared graduated from high school with honors and is in college in North Carolina; and Julianne is at or near the top of her high school class while maintaining a busy sports, student leadership, and extracurricular activity schedule. There is hope for the future and the journey is smoother (and shorter) the earlier you start!
To learn more about the services offered at Huntsville Hospital Pediatric Speech Therapy and Audiology, call (256) 265-7952.
Spotlight originally published May 2018.