HANOI, Vietnam — A 21-year-old Vietnamese girl lost her hearing 11 years ago after a substandard surgery procedure. Her parents could not afford further treatment. After a team of professors and students from BYU fitted her with a hearing aid, the young woman can hear now.
"It was one of those times when you say to yourself, 'I'm glad to be alive today, in this profession, to see this type of thing happen,' " said David L. McPherson, chairman of BYU's Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology Depart- ment.
Four graduate students and four faculty members from BYU embarked this year on a research and humanitarian aid trip during which they provided clinical service and expertise in Hanoi. The team, headed by Brother McPherson, performed hearing screenings, mostly on newborn infants, in small clinics, birthing houses, hospitals, the National Institute of Pediatrics and the National Institute of Otolaryngology, a hospital that trains ear, nose and throat physicians in Vietnam.
Their 15-day trip had a two-part mission: to help establish a program for fitting hearing aids, and to educate Vietnamese physicians on how to better treat those who suffer from hearing loss.
The BYU team used small, portable equipment to perform hearing screenings. The process involved placing a small probe, which looks like an earplug, in the patients' ears. The small device produces a very soft sound, inaudible to the natural ear. If the ear reflects back an identical echo, there is normal hearing. If not, that is an indication of hearing loss.
Brother McPherson said there are deeper repercussions from hearing loss than not being able to hear properly — especially among children.
Hearing-impaired children lag behind in school and can also have a high rate of social and behavioral problems, he said.
Consequently, he added that with a lack of education, these children are often supported by the state and end up working menial jobs. He said intervention at an early age is crucial to the well-being of these children and ideally should be done at birth.
Unfortunately, screening in developing countries, like Vietnam, is a low priority. Many medical technologies are not available, and the majority of Vietnamese medical professionals do not have the ability to attend meetings where they learn about improved methods of medicine, Brother McPherson said.
"One of the balancing acts is that we start identification of hearing loss that doesn't require high technology," he said.
For example, the BYU team trained Vietnamese physicians to use a method called a high-risk register, which is basically a checklist of symptoms and a diagnosis based on patient history.
Even though the more primitive method misses almost 50 percent of children who have hearing loss, it is better than missing all of them without the method, Brother McPherson said. Subsequent BYU teams will try to bring in technology that will increase that rate to at least 75 percent.
"You have to start small. We want to introduce them to things that will help them run the programs themselves and not be dependent on us year after year. Our entire plan is to make sure they can maintain this on their own and to make sure their doctors and technicians are well trained," he said.
Brother McPherson plans to return to Hanoi in the spring with another group of students to follow up on the work of the recent trip.