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Hearing center helping for nearly a half-century

Seven-year-old Jimmy Foard was born with Alfi's Syndrome (a rare genetic disorder), autism and apraxia of speech, all of which affect his ability to communicate verbally. After months of intensive therapy, Jimmy was fitted for an augmentative communication device that allows him to communicate via a small computer that "speaks" for him. Jimmy's mom, Michelle Foard, takes Jimmy for speech therapy at HMC's Speech & Hearing Center, and says that Jimmy "made more sounds in the first 20 minutes" at HMC than he did in 18 months at another clinic. "It's been wonderful. He's just blossomed. The therapists will do whatever needs to be done to advocate for the kids. They're extremely professional and they follow through, which is huge," said Foard, of Longmeadow. HMC's Speech & Hearing Center, now in its 46th year, has served the community longer than any other center in the region. HMC staff eight speech therapists, three audiologists, one hearing aid technician and two support staff go above and beyond the call of duty to provide the highest quality of care with the utmost compassion. "We work very hard to provide the ability to communicate to the best of a person's capabilities. We are also educators, teaching parents through therapy observation so they learn what we do and can carry it over at home," said audiologist and Holyoke native Janice Walker, HMC's Speech & Hearing Center Manager. From newborns in HMC's Birthing Center to seniors in HMC's Transitional Care Center, therapists help children and adults of all ages to excel in communication. Staff perform hearing tests, hearing aid evaluations and fit custom ear protection devices; they treat autism spectrum disorders, help with dysphagia feeding/swallowing difficulties and employ augmentative and alternative communication equipment, said Walker. Esmat Ezzat, who led HMC's Speech & Hearing Center for more than four decades before her recent retirement, said its strength comes from focusing on patient's abilities rather than disabilities, helping them to develop "a strong sense of self, a love of learning and life." "Forty years is but a minute in time in the history of the children and adults who suffer from speech language and hearing problems. But in these 40 years I have seen the growth from isolation to inspiration, from non-acceptance and separation to inclusion," said Ezzat. HMC's Speech & Hearing Center therapists logged 7,500 outpatient treatment sessions, 800 inpatient visits, sold 250 custom-fitted hearing aids and repaired 100 others last year. They completed 12,000 hours of contract services with community childhood programs including early intervention programs, preschool partnerships and with Holyoke, Chicopee and South Hadley HeadStart programs. Staff also work comprehensively with the Holyoke Visiting Nurses Association and run HMC's 30-year-old Stroke Support Group, which empowers patients to regain control of their lives following a stroke. Therapists also recently ran a very successful community education workshop on tinnitus (ringing in the ears) for over 100 people at HMC's Auxiliary Conference Center. "As we look to the future, we are embracing changes in technology, both in terms of augmentative devices and electronic record keeping between hospital departments and our partnering agencies in the community," said Walker. "Communication is what we strive for, and it comes in many different forms." For Foard, HMC's Speech & Hearing Center has been "a godsend." "As parents, we're always harping on how bright Jimmy is and how he needs to be challenged. He was an early reader and until others could see him express his knowledge, people tended to dismiss his abilities. The device has been a huge door opener for him in this respect. If somebody has a child with a speech issue, I always tell them to go (to HMC)." For more information or to make an appointment, call 534-2508.

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