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September 14, 2000

CSUS Professor Heads to Mexico to
Help Village's Hearing Impaired

You may have heard of Flying Doctors, physicians who travel to remote areas to provide medical care. Meet the "Flying Audiologist."

On Sept. 14, CSUS audiologist James McCartney will travel to the mountain village of Hidalgo, Mexico to offer hearing screenings to its citizens. McCartney and audiology graduate student Heather Loudermilk will fly with Los Medicos Voladores (The Flying Doctors), a volunteer organization that has provided health services and education in northern Mexico for nearly 30 years. Usually the medical teams are composed of doctors, optometrists or dentists. McCartney's group is the first to include audiologists.

Hidalgo, a village of about 3,000 in the northern state of Sonora, is believed to have a high rate of hearing loss, possibly caused by noisy industry in the area. While the town has a physician, the citizens need hearing assessment beyond what a doctor can provide.

McCartney, chair of the CSUS department of speech pathology and audiology and an audiologist for 26 years, first learned of the Mexico program from an e-mail call for audiologists. "I thought, 'This would be a wonderful training opportunity for our students,'" he says. "I think it will be a great way to apply classroom knowledge and work with a large population ranging from children to adults."

He expects the experience in Mexico to be an important topic of discussion in the classroom back at CSUS. He also sees the international exchange as a valuable opportunity to expand the department's efforts in the area of multiculturalism.

"It should be a wonderful training tool and a memorable learning experience," he says. "All students do field experiences in hospitals and clinics, but this would be unique."

Though he'll have the services of a translator, McCartney doesn't expect any language barriers in the screening process. He says the testing can be done without speaking, which is what he and his students do when they work with disabled children.

McCartney's team will consist of McCartney, graduate student Loudermilk, two audiologists from the California Ear Institute in Palo Alto, a pilot and an interpreter. They will spend at least a day and a half screening patients for hearing loss. If the audiologists find patients who would benefit from an assistive device like a hearing aid, they will take impressions of the ear. On a return trip, they will fit the hearing aids and do follow-ups. They hope the hearing aid industry in the states will donate the devices.

McCartney admits there is an air of uncertainty about the trip because he doesn't know exactly how much they'll be able to do while they're there. They will fly in a single-engine plane, taking off and landing on Hidalgo's gravel runway. Because of weight restrictions for the small plane, he isn't sure how much equipment he'll be allowed to bring.

He also doesn't know how many people he'll be seeing but says that under the right conditions, he could perform 1,000 screenings in a day. He also says his travels to local schools and long-term care facilities have taught him the importance of being flexible when it comes to location, facilities and equipment.

McCartney says if he is allowed to bring sound meters, he plans to do a sound level analysis to check the noise level of the tractors and mining equipment that operate around the town. He hopes the trip will lead to a research project on the prevalence of hearing loss in the area.


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