BTN LiveBIG: Gophers helping the world hear

Dave Fabry, VP of Audiology and Professional Services at Starkey Hearing Technologies, works with Bill and Tani Austin with the Starkey Hearing Foundation. They are committed to delivering hearing to millions of people around the globe.

Fabry, just back from Malawi, talked with LiveBIG about his experience with the foundation, where he has personally worked to supply hearing aids across Africa.

What makes the foundation work so important to you?

Hearing loss is one of the most chronic disabilities suffered globally. My eyes were opened at the number of hearing loss sufferers around the world who lost their hearing from preventable causes, like malaria, or middle ear disease, which is so readily treated here. These losses were not what I expected. I expected kids who were born with the disability, but so many suffer because of preventable causes. Many of those I treated had been born with normal hearing, and these kids knew how to speak.  So the benefit of a hearing aid is remarkable for these kids; their lives are immediately improved.

Amplification allows them to communicate again.  The real process is not just a hearing aid drop, we have to partner with local agencies to maintain the aids, and check for any illness that might impact the ear. This was the combination of art and science that I learned at the University of Minnesota.  It helped prepare me to be a better clinician.

How did the University of Minnesota move you to this kind of career?

I got my BA, MA, and PhD at Minnesota. And since I am from Wisconsin, I must have loved it there, to cross the border into enemy territory [laughs]. I’ve been an audiologist for 31 years. My mentors were Professors Dianne Van Tasell, Dixon Ward, and David Nelson, who each taught me the benefits of the scientific method.  That method was the best way for me to provide guidance and input on how to improve the excellent model of the Foundation.

For me, I have always had this interest in clinic and research and academics, but I have also been interested in improving the technology, and working with research and development, as well as education and training. My job provides a good cross section of work with those groups, but my work with the foundation allows me to work directly with patients.

I have concentrated on Africa:  I’ve been to Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and I just got back from Malawi last week.  My passion is to raise awareness for the importance of hearing and to raise awareness on the preventable causes of hearing loss.

What is the mission for the foundation?

This is a multi-decade commitment. I’ve been able to participate on the team of Bill and Tani Austin, on our 3-stage sustainable method that will eventually eliminate the need for our team to travel abroad, as markets are trained and the infrastructure is built so countries can become self-sustaining. Over the first 30 years we provided 1 million hearing aids to people without the funds or access to hearing aids.

President Bill Clinton challenged Bill Austin to up the ante beyond the million hearing aids already donated and grow and build a sustainable model for hearing aids for the world.  Starkey Hearing Foundation committed to donate another 1 million in 10 years and we are well ahead of schedule.  We provided 165,000 in a single year in 23 countries.   We partner with health providers on the ground in countries, because they can help with maintaining the hearing aids donated, but they can also provide the local resources to take the work over.

The foundation has been active since Starkey Hearing Technologies was formed.  As the business has grown, we’ve been able to do more to support the efforts of the foundation. This is the big thing now with companies like Tom’s Shoes, where with every pair purchased, another is donated. But we have approached our business like this from the beginning.

Visit their website for more inspirational videos and additional information about the Starkey Hearing Foundation.

Starkey Hearing Foundation

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