Students share life experiences with hearing loss

Cayla Smith, Campus Editor

Alyssa Polizzi, Senior

Alyssa Polizzi wasn’t born with hearing loss, but was admitted to the NICU because of a birth defect called Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia. According to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, this occurs when the muscle that separates the chest from the abdomen, fails to close in prenatal development. The opening allows the contents of the stomach, intestines or liver to move to the chest, affecting the growth and development of lungs. 

To treat the secondary problems because of this, the medicine she was prescribed, unfortunately burned off inner ear follicles.

“We didn’t know this until the end of first grade, when I showed signs of not being able to hear the teachers properly,” Polizzi said. “I was yelled at a lot by the teachers when I’d get out of my seat and go up to them so I could read their lips better. By second grade, I finally got hearing aids.”

Growing up, Polizzi took part in extracurricular activities —  cheerleading from second to ninth grade, and Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), which is a medical competition for students, from tenth grade to freshman year at Oakland University. Oakland University had their own chapter, but it became inactive after her freshman year. 

Stating her hearing only became a concern when it came to the hands-on skills because judges would give spoken cues, and would have to ask them to speak up.

Polizzi participated in the veterinary science division for four years, and won several regional, state and international medals — two of the international medals placed in first, out of 100-150 veterinary science competitors.

She uses SkyQ hearing aids, and has used them since the tenth grade in high school. But programming them, at the beginning, was difficult because of a weird squeaky noise, which took a hearing aid specialist a long time to narrow down the problem. 

During school, Polizzi used microphones teachers would clip on to their clothes, but after a few years, the older model gave her trouble and stopped working. She then switched to the Roger Pen, but it didn’t have the best sound quality. 

“I don’t recommend the Roger Pen to anyone. Unfortunately, we had to go through quite a few to keep finding ones that didn’t work,” Polizzi said. 

She has moved on from using microphones in the classroom to using a CART system, a device  used for real-time captioning with the use of a reporter who goes to class with her and types everything the professor is saying.

Polizzi’s hearing loss recently became a problem because of COVID-19, and the use of wearing masks causes her to frequently ask people to repeat themselves. Stating that people get annoyed because they’re ignorant of the idea that younger people can have hearing difficulties.

She studies Biology and currently works at a veterinary office because she hopes to become a veterinarian—this has been a dream since she was three-years-old. 

“I’ve always been around animals,” Polizzi said. “My grandparents had a little farmhouse with birds, bunnies, dogs, a tortoise, and many barn cats. I also especially love wolves, and I hope to one day own a chinchilla.”

Bailey Kehrig, Graduate Student

Bailey Kehrig was born hearing, but when she was in second grade, her hearing loss was discovered by a teacher who raised concerns after noticing she was missing things in class, and wasn’t responding when others would speak to her. 

This came as a surprise because Kehrig passed hearing tests and had great speech. 

“I passed my hearing tests in preschool, kindergarten and first grade,” Kehrig said. “I never gave reason to believe I had hearing loss until that point.”

Kehrig got referred to see an audiologist who then diagnosed her with mild sensorineural hearing loss in her right ear. This condition is caused by damage to the structures in your inner ear or your auditory nerve. Months later, the same thing happened to her left ear.

She continues to get her hearing tested every year, and started using an FM unit, which is a microphone system that teachers wear, so that whatever they were saying would stream directly to her hearing aids. 

But soon after starting middle school, she found that her hearing took a turn for the worst.

“In eighth grade, my hearing loss dropped from the mild range down to moderate/severe,” Kehrig said. “My Audiologist couldn’t give me a specific reason why this had happened, but I was fitted for new hearing aids and went back every year to continue to get my hearing tested.”

Her hearing remained stagnant in the moderate to severe range — until December 2020, when her hearing fully progressed into the severe range and borderline profound hearing loss.

“To be considered fully deaf, one must not be able to hear anything quieter than 90db HL — my test came back at 80db HL, which is progressively getting closer to the 90db range,” Kehrig said. “When I was first diagnosed in 2004, my hearing was around 30 db HL, and now, almost 20 years later, it has dropped 50db. Where does that leave me 20 years from today? If I’m being honest, I do consider it very much possible that I could become completely deaf one day, but for now, I can’t worry too much about the future and something I can’t control.

In December, she also got new hearing aids that are bluetooth, so it streams directly to her phone.

“This technology has helped me to communicate on my phone so much easier,” Kehrig said. “It’s really hard to find a con about a device that allows me to hear.”

Being the only sibling that experienced hearing loss Kehrig’s parents continued to treat her the same as her hearing siblings. Stating that her parents gave them all of the same expectations.

She got involved as a child by figure skating for 15 years.

“I absolutely fell in love with the sport, and I met some of the most amazing people who are still an important part of my life today,” Kehrig said.The figure skating community is very close and everyone was aware of my disability.”

She currently works as a trade show project coordinator and works on 28 publications and coordinates all trade shows and trade agreements throughout the year for each brand. 

I’ve gotten to travel, meet and work with a lot of different people, so far,” Kehrig said. “It has been such an amazing experience.”

She says that she rarely discloses her hearing loss because it doesn’t affect her ability to work.

“Yes, I have a disability, but it’s manageable, and it doesn’t affect or hinder my work ethic,” She said. “I’m not embarrassed by my disability by any means, but because my disability doesn’t affect my work, I don’t feel like it’s necessary to disclose it on my job applications.”

Kehrig is proud of herself for never being embarrassed by her disability, and emphasizes that it made her more hardworking, determined and self-confident.

She graduated with honors from OU with her bachelor’s degree, and is on track to graduate with honors spring 2022 with her MBA from OU, too.

“My disability doesn’t define me, but it has motivated me to work hard to achieve my goals in life,” Kehrig said. “One day I’d love to help others with disabilities know that there is no limit on the things we can accomplish in life.