The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette correct all errors of fact. If you see an error in this article, please call the city desk at 843-706-8139. Corrections and clarifications will appear in this space.
Web sites may link directly to search results and individual articles without permission.
Up to one paragraph of text may be included from an article as long as full attribution is given and the attribution links back to the full article.
To republish more than one paragraph of text, please contact us for permission.
The day still holds a strong place in Monica Wiser's memory. Diagnosed with hearing loss as a child, Wiser didn't get her first pair of hearing aids until the age of 8.
"I'll never forget that day because my mother walked outside with me, and I heard a very strange noise," Wiser recalled. "I said, 'Mom, what's that noise?' She couldn't hear anything unusual, and then we realized I was hearing birds for the first time."
Wiser is one of three out of seven siblings from a military family with a progressive sensorineural hearing loss.
"We're not exactly sure what gene marker is related to it, but two recessive genes got together, because both of my parents and grandparents had normal hearing," said Wiser.
Now 37 years old, Wiser has been a certified audiologist for the past 12 years. Since January, she has run her own private practice, Beaufort Audiology & Hearing Care, on Lady's Island.
An audiologist specializes in evaluating and treating people with hearing loss. Wiser explained that an audiologist is different from a hearing-instrument specialist and has a lot more training.
"(Audiologists) diagnose and map out a treatment plan for people with hearing loss," said Wiser. "A lot of people do not realize that when they get a hearing aid, they're not necessarily seeing an audiologist. They can get a hearing aid from a hearing instrument specialist (who) has a high school diploma and a passing score on a state examination. An audiologist has to have a master's or a doctorate, plus a clinical fellowship year and a national exam, so there's a bit of a difference."
Wiser holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University Northridge in communication sciences and disorders. She graduated at the top of her class and was named Student of the Year by the National Center on Deafness.
Despite her high achievement at California State University Northridge, where the National Center on Deafness is located, Wiser was initially told by the department head that he thought the program would be too difficult for someone with her degree of hearing loss.
"He was retiring that year, and, fortunately, the new department head had a different attitude about it," said Wiser. "But the idea's still out there, that people with hearing loss are less capable or less intelligent, but it's really just a matter of having access to information. I think my hearing loss put me at an advantage because I was able to relate to the material both in theory and in practice. A lot of the issues I was already familiar with so it just came easily for me."
Wiser pointed to a 2005 study by Sergei Kochkin, Ph.D., that revealed people with untreated hearing loss tend to earn less than their peers with equal skill and experience.
"The income differential between somebody with normal hearing and somebody with untreated hearing loss, meaning they don't have a hearing aid, could be up to a $20,000 difference, annually," said Wiser. "One message that I'd like to get across is that the No. 1 cause of hearing loss is noise exposure, and that's 100 percent preventable. A lot of people think hearing loss is due to aging, but it's really an accumulation of noise over the years."
In 1996, Wiser obtained her Master's degree in Audiology at San Diego State University. Graduating with a 4.0 GPA, she was designated as the Outstanding Graduate for the Department of Communicative Disorders.
Wiser completed her clinical fellowship year at the V.A. Medical Center in Long Beach, Calif., and received her certificate of clinical competence from the American Speech Language Hearing Association in 1997.
"I went into this field with a lifetime worth of questions," said Wiser. "I was seeking two things: I wanted answers as to what caused hearing loss and what can be done to improve things for people with hearing loss. I also went into the field hoping to make some changes."
Although Wiser said technology and education has improved hearing loss treatments, one of the major changes she would like to see is how insurance companies treat the disorder.
"A lot of insurance companies do not cover hearing aids," said Wiser. "It has never really been taken seriously by the medical community. A couple of weeks ago, I spoke with the president of the Hearing Loss Association of America, which is a self-help organization for people with hearing loss, and their main goal is to raise awareness of hearing loss and to raise awareness as it is a national health concern."
Wiser added that most people don't realize the state of South Carolina provides free, amplified CapTel phones for people who have a documented hearing loss.
According to the Hearing Loss Association of America's Web site, 31 million Americans, or one in 10, suffer from a hearing loss, making it a public health issue third in line after heart disease and arthritis.
Wiser said her own hearing loss is what made her choose audiology as a career. Born to military parents on an Air Force base in Panama City, Fla., Wiser said she moved nine times by the time she was a junior in high school. She completed high school in Germany.
About six years ago, Wiser moved to Beaufort with her husband, Hayes, who was born in Columbia but attended the same high school Wiser did in Germany since his mother worked for the military. The couple has a 7-year-old son named Alan.
"I'm just grateful to God, really, for all of the blessings I've had, because so many people in so many other situations have a hearing loss, and it hasn't been addressed," said Wiser. "I like the fact that I have control over the quality of care of patients. I think the most fulfilling thing is when somebody walks out the door with a smile on their face."
Wiser said her whole motivation behind what she does is improving the quality of life for people with hearing loss, something she can relate to personally.
"I suppose I could have gone down the easier path and just got a job selling hearing aids, but I wanted to know more about the nature of hearing loss, what causes it and how it affects the lives of people," said Wiser. "I view my job as an advocate for people with hearing loss and not just somebody who gives people hearing aids and sends them on their merry way."