Ray, Ditmars lead students to Nicaragua for humanitarian audiology trip

Ray, Ditmars lead students to Nicaragua for humanitarian audiology trip

24 Jul 2017    By Kelcey Buck

When Stacie Ray and Hannah Ditmars came up with the idea to take students from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Doctor of Audiology program to Nicaragua to serve a population in desperate need of hearing health care services, their focus was on building a sustainable program. As the two professors depart with six graduate students for their second annual study abroad trip to the country, that focus remains.

“The biggest thing for us is sustainability,” said Ray, an associate professor of practice at Nebraska. “We’re not going to go there and serve this population, then walk away. We need them to know that we’re going to stick with them and we’re going to be there at least once a year to serve their needs. And we need to train people who can help them in between when we’re not there. That’s the most important component of humanitarian audiology.”

Ray and Ditmars, an assistant professor of practice, were accompanied by four graduate students on the inaugural trip a year ago. In a span of 10 days, that group served 140 individuals, fitting 117 hearing aids. This year’s group of eight departs Nebraska July 25, and by the time they return Aug. 6 will have seen countless new patients, while also providing follow-up care for as many individuals as possible from last year’s trip.

“This year we need batteries for everyone we fit with hearing aids last year,” Ditmars said. “Things like trying to supply batteries for everyone is going to grow exponentially really quickly because they just don’t have access to things like that.”

“We have to take a year’s supply of batteries for each person that we’re going to fit this year, as well as a year’s supply for those we fit last year,” Ray added. “Then you have to sustain that.”

In addition to all the batteries, the group is taking 88 hearing aids with them, which were purchased with a $5,000 grant from Sertoma International, as well as private donations through HearU International.

Those 88 hearing aids will be used during the first week in León, where they will primarily see patients at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Nicaragua (UNAN) medical campus. While there, the group from Nebraska will work with and help train two individuals who are working on becoming certified audiometric technicians.

“They have a really nice space that has air conditioning and a small sound booth,” Ditmars said. “And we’ll have a couple rooms there so we can do testing and fit hearing aids there. Then the two audio technicians are going to provide follow-up when we’re not there.”

The group will also spend a day at the León School for the Deaf to provide follow-up care for all of the students they have previously seen, as well as test any new students.

The second week of the trip will be spent in Jinotega, working more directly with Mayflower Medical Outreach, which has established an Ear, Nose, Throat (ENT) clinic in the city. The group from Nebraska will work alongside two certified audiometric technicians to fit as many hearing aids as possible at that location. Mayflower Medical Outreach is supplying the hearing aids for Jinotega, which allows the 88 from HearU International to be used entirely in León.

Last year, the group also spent time in Quezalguaque, a town of about 8,000 people near León. Ray and Ditmars have been unsuccessful in reconnecting with their main contact in that town, but are hoping to still serve those individuals.

“Hopefully our interpreter will be able to get in touch with someone in Quezalguaque to at least let people know we are in León so if they’re having issues they can come see us there to be served,” Ray said.

The trip won’t be all work and no play, though. A city tour of León, visiting an art museum and a day at the beach are also on the agenda.

“We’ll also do some sightseeing with the students,” Ray said. “We’ll go down this mangrove in a boat, which is just beautiful. You end up in this opening, and you walk out and there’s the Pacific Ocean.”

Follow along with the group's travels and work by visiting their Facebook group. They are also sharing photos on Instagram. To donate to HearU International, a fund established through the University of Nebraska Foundation, visit http://go.unl.edu/hia5

Special Education and Communication Disorders
College of Education and Human Sciences