Audiology Adventure in the Amazon

Veterans of Oticon and AAAF’s Project Amazon share details of their life-changing experiences.

Although it can sometimes seem clich̩, there are more than a few practical advantages to having been born and raised in the United States Рand the quality of audiological care has to rate quite highly.

The availability of excellent hearing care may be a luxury for many around the world, but Oticon Hearing Foundation and the American Academy of Audiology Foundation’s (AAAF) have spent the past six years attempting to change that through the Project Amazon initiative.

Hearing the Humanitarian Call

With the June 15 deadline for applications now passed, Project Amazon will announce and notify its chosen audiologist and audiology student, selected to work in a remote region of Brazil. The humanitarian mission is always responded to by a flood of interested and qualified professionals and students and Rasmus Borsting, a board member for Oticon Hearing Foundation and Executive Director of Oticon, Inc., summarized the spirit of the trip for ADVANCE and discussed which attributes virtually all applicants have in common.

“Each year, the audiologist and audiology student selected bring different strengths and unique abilities to Project Amazon,” Borsting said. “One characteristic they consistently share is a passion for making a positive difference for people in need who have hearing loss.

” At the Oticon Hearing Foundation, we are grateful for the number of audiologists and audiology students who apply to participate in Project Amazon,” Borsting continued. “This is a humanitarian mission that requires a considerable commitment – time away from the office or classroom to travel to a remote area of Brazil to work side-by-side staff from the nonprofit Oticon Clinic in Parintins. The strong response to our call for applications is a reminder of the community of caring that exists among audiologists and future audiologists. We are pleased to support their generous efforts not only through Project Amazon, but through the support of other humanitarian missions that bring sustainable hearing care to impoverished people worldwide.”

And after being among those who responded to last year’s call, Lena Kyman, AuD, of ENT & Audiology Associates in Raleigh, North Carolina and Mia Canale, BS, AC-MCWE, 2017 AuD Candidate from the University at Buffalo learned they’d been accepted and prepared themselves for a trip that neither one would ever forget.

Far & Wide

While both Kyman and Canale had previously spent time volunteering in addition to taking part in audiology advocacy – Kyman having been elected to North Carolina’s state board for its association of audiologists (AAA-NC) and Canale having served as secretary of the executive board for the Buffalo Chapter of the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) – both pointed out the uniqueness of Project Amazon as a hearing care humanitarian trip which encompassed traveling by way of air, land and sea.

“Mia and I met up at a layover in Florida and then we flew into Brazil together,” Kyman said. “After meeting a translator and a tour guide in Manaus who showed us around different parts of the city, we took a 20-hour boat ride the following day down the Amazon River, which was incredible and beautiful. When we arrived in Parintins, someone from the (Oticon) clinic picked us up and after some rest, we started our day. . Once we started seeing patients the next day, they were lined up in the courtyard of the clinic first thing in the morning. There wasn’t necessarily a set schedule of appointments, either – we worked until everyone had been seen, because some of these people traveled up to ten hours by boat to be there. Some nights let out earlier than others, but no one was turned away.”

“Many of the people that came told us that they’d never had a hearing test in their life,” Canale added, before describing the case of a man with profound hearing loss that had been undiagnosed and untreated for thirty years. “That’s the trouble – people can’t develop spoken language and communicate and if no one knows that it could be due to hearing loss, they aren’t shown things like sign language, visual or even hearing aids that could help them out. And in the case of this man, they can end up very isolated.”

Creativity and Confidence

As Kyman and Canale shared stories of long lines and the serious hearing loss challenges several of the patients in them were presenting, both spoke about the importance of thinking on your feet, improvising for a lack of ideal conditions (such as familiar, state-of-the-art equipment) and the confidence that is bred from working with patients who, in addition to their symptoms, brought a language barrier to their hearing care appointments.

“I feel more confident now when I see patients who speak other languages after my time in Brazil,” Kyman said. “It oftentimes involves laughing and admitting that we can’t quite speak to each other, but we can still communicate and address their needs. And I also feel more confident in my ability to improvise,” she added as she relayed a story about performing a Dix-Hallpike maneuver on a dizzy patient right on the table where the clinicians ate their meals during the week.

Likewise, when asked the ultimate question about any sort of trip – whether or not they’d go back – both Kyman and Canale not only stressed that they would return to Brazil as well as anywhere else in the world where they felt they could meet real audiological needs, but that they sincerely hoped Project Amazon could be advertised to as many audiologists and audiology students as possible.

“It was a really great trip for a really great reason,” Canale said. “I am extremely grateful to the Oticon Hearing Foundation and the American Academy of Audiology Foundation for creating this opportunity and I hope others arise because of it.”

Kyman added, “I don’t think a lot of people realize that (Project Amazon) is an opportunity that’s available to them, but I would highly encourage anyone to apply. Not to exaggerate, but it really was life-changing. The people were amazing and because of living together at the clinic for almost two weeks, those that worked with us ended up feeling almost like a family. Patients came so far for care and were just hugging and kissing and blessing us, so appreciative of the work that we did. It was such a valuable trip and I highly encourage anyone that can to apply for it and go.”

The selected audiologist and student for Project Amazon 2016 will be notified in August.

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