Mile Bluff Audiologists improve hearing for patients of all ages

To most, Hunter Bass does not represent the ‘typical’ audiology patient. At the age 14 of, Hunter certainly is not elderly, yet he does have hearing aids. And unlike many others with hearing loss, Hunter’s is not from working around loud noises for years; instead, he just finished up his career as an eighth grade student.

Since fourth grade, Hunter has been wearing the assistive devices. “At first, I didn’t realize that I had hearing loss. I would have a slow drop in hearing and I would just get used to it,” recalls Hunter. “My parents noticed because I said ‘what?’ a lot and my TV would be super loud, so they decided to get my hearing checked.”

After discovering Hunter’s hearing loss, Mile Bluff’s audiology team was determined to find a cause. “At first, everyone thought it was just ear damage from loud noises, but then I was diagnosed with Alports.”

Alports syndrome is a condition that is characterized by kidney disease, hearing loss, and eye abnormalities. People with Alports experience progressive loss of kidney function, and have hearing loss due to inner ear and nerve damage. Those diagnosed with Alports begin experiencing symptoms during late childhood or early adulthood.

Alports is rare, and occurs in approximately one in 50,000 newborns. “Some people can go years without getting a diagnosis,” explains Hunter’s mom, Amy. “We were lucky. We saw an audiologist at Mile Bluff who thought Hunter could have Alports. We were then referred to a specialist from UW who ordered a urine test, because hearing loss can sometimes be caused by kidney disease [which can be discovered through urinalysis]. After getting those results back, we were in to see a kidney doctor and eye specialist within a month. They confirmed Alports.”

“We had a diagnosis within four months because we saw the right people at the right time here at Mile Bluff,” continued Amy. “Eventually Hunter will need a kidney transplant, but right now everything is stable. His hearing loss should not get any worse.”

Even though his hearing loss has stabilized, Hunter still sees an audiologist regularly. Recently, Hunter worked with Rob June, audiologist at Mile Bluff, to get a new set of hearing aids. “My new hearing aids are a lot more advanced than my old ones,” says Hunter. “They have more capabilities and they adjust better to my surroundings. They can make unbearably loud situations quieter so my ears are not damaged any further.”

At school, Hunter’s teachers used an FM system to help him hear in the classroom. With an FM system, a teacher speaks into a special microphone that sends sound directly to a student with hearing loss. Now that Hunter has his new hearing aids, he no longer needs the FM system in the classroom.

In addition to the technology changes, Hunter also appreciates the discrete design of his new hearing aids. “When I first got hearing aids in fourth grade, people noticed. No one really made fun of me about them, but they asked why I had them,” recalls Hunter. “Since I got my new hearing aids, people actually have asked me if I still have them because they don’t notice the hearing aids anymore.”

As a parent, Amy is grateful for the technology that is available to Hunter. “I always tell him that we’re lucky to have these hearing aids. Where would we be if we hadn’t noticed his hearing loss?” Amy continues, “There are days where we have ‘pity parties,’ but then we think of the positives. We have the hearing aids; he can hear.”

The mother-son duo is also grateful for the care they have received at Mile Bluff. While Amy appreciates the convenient care and having access to visiting specialists at Mile Bluff, Hunter enjoys the atmosphere of the organization. “Everyone is just so friendly and respectful at Mile Bluff. I’m not worried about coming here,” says Hunter.

Despite his young age, Hunter views his journey with hearing loss and Alports as an opportunity to encourage and inspire others. “I’ve started to think about my hearing aids as a way to help others who have hearing aids,” admits Hunter. “Maybe I can support people who have them. If more kids see other kids with hearing aids, they will realize hearing aids are not bad or different. They can become a ‘normal’ thing.”

If you are inspired by Hunter’s story, or feel that a loved one may have hearing loss, schedule an appointment with Mile Bluff’s Audiology Department. The first step toward hearing clearly is to have your hearing tested. Let Mile Bluff’s licensed hearing professionals help you find out what you’re missing.

Hearing services are available in Mauston, Lake Delton, New Lisbon and Friendship. For more information about Mile Bluff’s Audiology Department and the hearing services offered, call 608-847-1414.