Sound Effects: Spalding Story

Sound Effects: Spalding Story

Mission Trip to the Dominican Republic

By Jody Spalding, MA

One of the highlights of my audiology career came in March 2007 when I traveled to the Dominican Republic with four University of Nebraska–Lincoln AuD students. Our week-long trip was as spectacularly successful as we could have hoped. One of our AuD students had connections with an Episcopal school in Sand Pedro de Macoris through her grandfather. She had been there several times, including a trip in May 2006 when she completed hearing screening on 175 children and identified several with hearing loss. The trip was made possible through the support of many different individuals and companies including Medical Technologies, NE Student Speech Language Hearing Assoc, Phonak Hearing Systems, the University Sertoma Club, the UNL Barkley Speech Language and Hearing Clinic, Westone Laboratories Incorp, and Widex Hearing Aid Company.

Our trip began on Sunday, March 11, at 5:30 AM (the night daylight savings began, so it felt like 4:30 AM). Twenty six and one-half hours later (Lincoln to Omaha, Omaha to Chicago Midway, Midway to O'Hare via the "L," O'Hare to JFK, JFK to Santiago, Santiago to San Pedro de Macoris via van/taxi) we arrived—safe, but exhausted.

San Pedro de Macoris is on the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic. The city's population is about 100,000, so it has all the modern conveniences like indoor plumbing (although everyone uses bottled water for drinking, cooking, and even brushing your teeth) and power (city and generator sources, at least one of which works most of the time). The weather was glorious the week we were there: sunny and warm, but not obscenely hot, and less humidity than I had expected. There was only one day when you could stick paper to my skin.

Following our arrival early on Monday at the Episcopalian Conference Center, we all collapsed until noon. Monday afternoon found us setting up our equipment, completing bio-checks and sound level readings for the test areas, and meeting with the principal and teachers at the mission school where we would provide hearing screenings Tuesday through Friday.

A fortuitous convergence (what I fondly call a "moment of grace") found Marilyn and William de la Costa also housed with us at the conference center. The de la Costas function as guides/liaisons for groups from the US coming to the Dominican Republic to provide everything from health care to construction services. When they learned that we were offering hearing health care, they initiated their phone tree, and the next day, random people with hearing concerns began to arrive at the conference center from all over the surrounding region. Their "referrals" kept us busy whenever we weren't screening hearing.
I was immensely proud to work with the four students who participated in this trip. Their generous spirits, good humor, and skill in providing hearing health care represented UNL at its best. It was an honor to serve with them and to have the opportunity to share the gift of sound. About the Author: Jody Spalding is a Lecturer at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and has been a Fellow member of the American Academy of Audiology since 1991.


Testing 23-month-old Jael (the cutest and sweetest toddler ever!) and then fitting him with one of the donated behind-the-ear digital hearing aids from Widex after a phone consultation regarding the pediatric correction factors for the handheld programmer. The look on his mother's face when she called his name and he turned to look at her!

Fitting a young man with cerebral palsy and hearing loss with donated behind-the-ear digital hearing aids from Phonak. I don't know whose smile was bigger, his or his mother's.

Three family members with otosclerosis: a grandmother (about 76) and her two adult grandchildren. The looks on our faces after one of the AuD students (with the help of a hand drawing of the parts of the ear) had done her best to explain en Espanol conductive hearing loss and the adult granddaughter pulled out results from testing completed the previous month with the diagnosis "otosclerosis" written on a prescription pad … Si, Si!

A man with completely impacted cerumen in addition to a congenital mixed hearing loss (a unique experience with a hearing loss involving outer, middle and inner ear)! It was one hour (felt like four!) in two half-hour sessions of cerumen removal (next year, we are taking the head lamp).

On our final day, a trip to an impoverished community where the only source of water for washing and cooking is from water running in a network of concrete culverts. Almost thirty children from a "school for the deaf" patiently waited in a church sanctuary for us to deliver the miracle of hearing. We found that we could communicate in sign language even if we didn't know Spanish. It was bittersweet to identify and fit hearing aids on students with moderate to moderately severe hearing losses whose only language was sign because they had never had an opportunity for amplification. We fit hearing aids only on the students who could reasonably be expected to receive benefit; it was painful to see the disappointment on the faces of the students whom we could not help, those who had corner audiograms or no response to the limits of our equipment. At the end of the day, it was a very emotional moment when the students' teacher expressed their gratitude in sign and Spanish.