Long before he became a Phonak employee with hearing loss, Heldner was diagnosed with hearing loss when he was four years old. His parents took him to the doctor after they noticed that he failed to react each time they asked him to close the door when he came in the house. The doctor diagnosed him with bilateral moderately-severe hearing loss. Shortly afterwards, he was fitted with his first pair of hearing aids.
Heldner’s journey to being a Phonak employee was not by chance. When he was studying microtechnology at the University of Applied Science in Biel, Switzerland the summer holidays were quite long. He wanted a summer job to fill the time, so he made contact with Phonak.
In his first job, Heldner worked in manufacturing and was assembling the Phonak HandyMic – the very first remote microphone for adults. He had the opportunity to test the HandyMic in his personal life.
“I went to a [club] and I was amazed at how easily I could now hear my colleagues,” he recalled. “Thanks to the HandyMic, I could also talk to women, so I had the luck to meet the woman I am now married to.”
Over time, Heldner’s hearing loss worsened. In 2005, he was recommended for cochlear implantation. However, he couldn’t imagine hearing better with a cochlear implant compared to hearing aids, so he did not pursue this option.
Read more: Hearing aids vs. cochlear implants
In 2008, Heldner organized a study in Oklahoma with cochlear implant users to validate a Phonak product. During the study, he met many cochlear implant users with similar hearing loss journeys.
“All the study participants understood better than me,” he recalls. “They also shared how happy they were with the cochlear implant.”
When he returned to Switzerland, he made an appointment with his doctor. Six months later, he received a cochlear implant.
Today, he is a bimodal user, with a Phonak Naída Paradise rechargeable hearing aid in one ear and a cochlear implant in the other ear. Heldner loves how his hearing devices are rechargeable. He never has to search for them in the morning; they are always in the charger.
Seventeen years later, Heldner is the Senior Product Manager for Roger technology. Roger microphones have been developed to reduce background noise. They transmit the speaker’s voice directly to hearing aids or cochlear implant sound processors. This enables individuals with hearing loss to fully participate in group conversations even in very noisy environments such as restaurants, work meetings, and school activities.
As a product manager, Heldner captures the needs of customers with hearing loss. Together with the engineers, he tries to develop the right solutions for those with hearing loss. Heldner created a series of videos on how people with hearing loss can improve their communication with Phonak Roger.
A recent project Heldner was proud to work on was the development and launch of the Roger On microphone. He shared that this product has become the most popular microphone with customers. It has won two design awards and one innovation award. The Roger On has also been mentioned as one of the 100 best innovations in Time Magazine.
Heldner’s dream is to have Roger microphones installed everywhere – meeting rooms, public venues, and more – so that users can simply connect and listen effortlessly to voices and audio. He is working hard to make this become a reality.
One of the things Heldner enjoys about working for Phonak is that he can try and use the newest technology, especially testing new products before they are on the market.
Outside of work, Heldner enjoys spending time with his family, playing the hang drum, mountain biking, climbing, or coaching at CrossFit. When rope climbing, communication can be challenging. Hearing over the distance between climbing partners can be difficult. Ensuring that hearing devices remain secure on the ears is another challenge. Before beginning a climb, Heldner and his climbing partner agree on rope signals, like using tugs on the rope to signal their intentions.
To prevent his hearing devices from slipping off his ears, Heldner always wear a cap when climbing indoors or a helmet when climbing outdoors.
In a CrossFit gym, it can be loud and reverberant. Heldner tells the trainees to alert him when they have a question either by approaching him or raising their hand. When he is a trainee himself, he has the coach wear a Roger microphone.
Heldner is also a father of two young children, whom he taught early how to best communicate with him. For example, if they want to share something with him, they know to look at him before speaking.
When Heldner goes biking with his daughter in the trailer behind him, he gives her the Roger microphone. This way, he is not missing out when she is singing or when she asks him something. He admits the most challenging situation is going to the swimming pool, as he needs to take off both his cochlear implant and hearing aid. To overcome this challenge, his family established hand gestures and signals to use with each other. They also make sure to look in his direction so he can read their lips. Using good communication skills is now a habit for his children, making communication within the family much easier.
Heldner is also a board member of a foundation for people with hearing loss in the canton of Bern, Switzerland. The aim of the foundation is to consult and help people with hearing loss in any stage of their lives, such as finding a new job.
Heldner says he is enjoying his life to the fullest despite profound hearing loss.
“My purpose is to help other people with hearing loss so that they can also lead a life without limitations,” he said.