BY LURAH LOWERY | BRISTOL HERALD COURIER
Editor’s note: This is the third story in a series about the United Way of Bristol, the agencies it funds and the people they help in the community. United Way is in the midst of its annual fundraising campaign. This year’s goal is $1.425 million. For more information, go to www.unitedwaybristol.org or call 423-968-4912.
BRISTOL, Tenn. — Debbie Helton didn’t realize she had significant hearing loss until she didn’t hear someone come into the office where she works or a nearby co-worker who was on the telephone and asked her to see who came in.
The person on the other end of that call turned out to be a representative of the Bristol Regional Speech and Hearing Center who — when told of Helton’s hearing — said ‘We can fix that.’
“It was kind of funny at the time, but I knew that my hearing was not good,” said Helton, finance director of the United Way of Bristol. “It was just one of those things you kind of put off.”
Helton works for the organization, but she’s also one of the many people in the community helped each year by one of the agencies funded by United Way of Bristol, receiving hearing aids earlier this year from Bristol Regional Speech and Hearing Center.
“Overall, it’s made life better,” she said. “It’s made life more enjoyable.”
Although the exact cause hasn’t been determined, Helton’s audiologist believes her hearing loss may have been partially caused by years of chemotherapy treatments for inflammatory breast cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2008.
“They were very helpful,” she said of those at the hearing center. “The process was very easy to go through. … In a couple of months, I had my hearing aids. I was just so surprised at what I wasn’t hearing at the time.”
She missed the sounds of the little things, like hearing the turn signal in her car, which she realized she’d taken for granted.
“I could hear the birds better,” Helton said. “I was thrilled to death. … You just never know, no matter what kind of walk of life you are, when you can utilize something like that agency. I was very grateful that everything turned out for me like it did.”
Highway in Bristol, Virginia, and offers speech and hearing services to all ages.
Hearing aids are also dispensed and scholarships are available for those who cannot afford them. Most of the money that is raised by United Way and given to the center is used for those scholarships.
“We have hundreds of people who come through our doors and they all need something,” said Anne Morton, executive director of the hearing center. “We work with several different programs to assist people in the purchase of hearing aids. Hearing aids are extraordinarily expensive, thousands of dollars.”
The center is a referral center for Veterans Affairs and screens children for hearing loss in every Head Start program in Washington County, Virginia and the city of Bristol.
According to Morton, the center is the only one in Southwest Virginia that offers services for cochlear implants, which are small electronic devices that can aid a person who has severe hearing loss or is deaf. An external portion of the device sits behind the ear and a second portion is surgically placed under the skin.
“Debbie is just an incredible person,” Morton said of Helton. “She’s worked really hard for the United Way and I know the United Way couldn’t get by without her. … We were able to help her to get the hearing aids that she needed. I think it changed her life. I think Debbie is like a lot of people who have hearing loss — they may or may not recognize how much they’ve lost and when they are fitted with their hearing aids and the first time they walk out the door it’s kind of an amazing thing.”
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