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Christmas miracle

Center gives 16 Valley residents hearing aids

YOUNGSTOWN — Don’t tell JoAnne Stewart there’s no such thing as a miracle.

“I was going deaf for some time. I couldn’t hear the TV,” Stewart, of Cortland, said with sadness.

Stewart, 70, will be hearing a lot more than her favorite programs, Christmas music and her granddaughter. That’s because she was among the 16 patients who were fitted for sets of hearing aids during the 10th annual Hearing for the Holidays Mission at the D.D. and Velma Davis Education and Visitor Center in Mill Creek Park.

Sponsoring the event was the Boardman-based Centers for Hearing Care.

Stewart made more than a dozen calls to a variety of community agencies, but no one was able to help her, she explained. Then she reached out recently to The Vindicator, which connected her with the center after learning it had a program that could provide help for her, Stewart added.

“I feel overwhelmed,” an emotional Stewart said after suddenly being able to hear numerous sounds in her immediate environment. “I nearly gave up hope.”

Besides having to deal with gradual hearing loss much of her adult life, Stewart has suffered her share of adversity that includes cancer, heart attacks and back problems. This Christmas, however, she plans to send cards to members of her large family, with the inscription, “I believe in miracles.”

Accompanying Stewart for her special day Dec. 19 was her daughter, Jeanne King of Fowler.

“That just really touched our hearts, those words,” Dr. Fortunato Figliano, the Centers for Hearing Care’s executive director, said, referring to Stewart’s description of a Christmas miracle.

Figliano noted that hearing loss often creates a life crisis for many of those who experience it, largely because they feel isolated from others and have to withdraw from family gatherings and other special occasions.

In addition, Stewart and the other 15 patients will receive follow-up visits, he said.

After having been fitted for their hearing aids, the patients attended a small class in which several audiologists instructed them on how to use and care for the devices.

Also feeling like he has a renewed lease on life was Ryan Dunkel, 40, of Kinsman, who began losing his hearing in 2004 or 2005, the result largely of a brain tumor.

“I didn’t notice it until after my first surgery,” Dunkel recalled.

Nevertheless, his hearing was restored after having been fitted.

“I feel like it’s a tremendous gift that I’ve been given back,” said Dunkel, who came to the event with his wife, Audra Dunkel.

A few years ago, Dianne Horner, 77, had lost one of her previous hearing aids, so her doctor called the Centers for Hearing Care, a move that allowed her to receive the new ones.

As a result, Horner, of East Liverpool, will be able to again join in on conversations with others during Christmas and beyond.

“That’s a big one,” she said, adding that hearing loss also is compounded because it’s often misunderstood.

Among those happy to provide assistance with the effort on Dec. 19 was Mike Poppen, regional business manager for Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Starkey Hearing Technologies, which manufactured the devices.

“I’m here to support these guys. I love watching people who can’t afford hearing aids finally have a chance to hear better, to live better,” Poppen said, adding, “It’s amazing what hearing can do to change a person’s world.”

After getting their hearing aids, the 16 patients also took home food baskets, courtesy of members of the Youngstown State University chapter of Delta Zeta Sorority.

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