After developing hearing loss as a child, Jim Ryun persevered through life largely without hearing aids. But since getting Phonak Lyric, invisible, in-the-canal hearing aids, he’s rediscovering sounds and living life to the fullest.
We had the opportunity to talk to him about his achievements, career and his experiences living with hearing loss:
Jill: Can you tell us a little bit about your hearing loss?
Jim: At approximately age five I had the measles. While suffering with a very high fever, I lost approximately 50% of my hearing. I didn’t realize it at that time, but traced it back to that, as I began to experience hearing difficulties in the classroom. I first noticed my hearing loss in grade school when I answered questions with the wrong answers. After many failures to hear correctly, and because I was embarrassed, I stopped even attempting to answer questions. During this learning experience, for the rest of my academic life, I began positioning myself near someone who took good notes so I could copy what I had missed from the teacher. Hearing testing given during my grade school days confirmed my hearing loss and that there was nothing that could been done to correct the loss.
Throughout my education days I was periodically given hearing evaluations. The results were all the same, as my hearing loss did not become worse. They also concluded that there was no help available for my hearing loss. My hearing loss was best described as moderate, and I was told it could not be helped with hearing aids.
At age 49, I had a friend urge me to see a good audiologist for one more attempt to help me hear better. The evaluation from the audiologist was encouraging and I began wearing hearing aids that dramatically changed my hearing and thus my life.
As time passed, Phonak Lyric hearing aids became available. These newer hearing technology improved my hearing life even more. Sounds that I had never heard before were realized (i.e.. the sound of water being poured into a bottle.) Lyric provided a new crisp quality sound. The advancements with Lyric hearing could best be described as deeper and richer, more complete.
Jill: You’ve been called the “Best High School Athlete Ever” for your records in track-and-field. As an athlete and advocate for children athletes with hearing loss, how do you see the importance of hearing technology in athletics? What has your experience with sports and hearing aids been?
Jim: The first and most obvious advantage of wearing (hearing aids while doing sports) is safety. As a runner on the streets, my Lyric hearing aids make it possible to hear the traffic. They allow me the ability to hear people around me and be more aware of my surroundings. Because they are in the ear canal, you avoid body sweat. I have never experienced discomfort while running with them. Because they are in the ear canal I also hear important sounds: the coach giving instructions or a car honking to make me aware of its presence. During a race, I can actually hear the footsteps of my competitors and don’t have to turn around to see where they are. Before wearing Lyric and while running, the sound of wind while running or biking was an irritation. With Lyric that problem is gone.
Jill: As a politician, what are your thoughts on the financial issues surrounding hearing aids? Do you see the possibility of hearing technology being covered more by health insurance policies in the future?
Jim: Quality of life is difficult to measure in dollars and cents. By the way, quality of life is not just for those who have lost hearing but for those who surround them: parents, spouses, and children – to mention a few. While hearing systems to many are expensive, being able to hear is priceless.
“While hearing systems to many are expensive, being able to hear is priceless.”
While serving in the United States Congress, I introduced the Hearing Aid Tax Credit in attempts to address this issue.
Rep. Jim Ryun (R-KS) first introduced the bill in late 2003, and re-introduced the Hearing Aid Assistance Tax Credit Act (HR 414) in the 109th Congress (2005-’06). The bill’s purpose was to provide a tax credit of up to $500 per device, once every 5 years, toward the purchase of any hearing device that is considered a “qualified hearing aid” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Versions of the legislation (HR 1882) and (S. 315) are still in the House and Senate, respectively.
Jill: What do you want people to know about living with hearing loss? Any stigmas that you would like to see disputed, or issues discussed?
Jim: One comment I often hear from those who have loss of hearing is that, after they have been fitted, they hear themselves differently. By that I mean they hear their voice and it sounds different. My response to them is they have lost their hearing over a period of time and have become accustomed to the loss. I encourage them to be patient as they will hear many sounds that they have gradually lost over time.
For me personally there are new discovered sounds daily, such as the sound of loose change in my pocket, being able to hear our grandchildren with out them having to repeat what they just said, hearing the sound of crickets when I’m outside, or the sound of leaves rubbing together as the wind blows gently.
Because Lyric are worn in the ear canal, the stigmas of “only old people wear hearing ads” is no longer an issue. Even before I began wearing Lyric, I was frustrated that my wife would have to repeat what she had said, or that I would miss the interesting comments our young children would say and have to have them say it again.
If you think you are loosing your hearing, you probably are. Just ask those around you like your wife, your children, your co-workers. Then, find a good audiologist and get tested. Life is for the living and you only live once. Why not invest in quality of life and hearing as much as possible?
“Life is for the living and you only live once. Why not invest in quality of life and hearing as much as possible?”
Jill: What’s the worst thing about having hearing loss?
Jim: One of the worst things about hearing loss is that until your hearing loss is corrected, you don’t realize how much of life you are missing. You also don’t realize how selfish you have been by not considering the additional stress you have put on those around you who have made adjustments because of your hearing loss. Until I wore hearing systems, my wife Anne was my hearing aid. She would patiently tell me what our little children were saying (4 in 5 years).
Jill: What’s the best thing about having hearing aids?
Jim: One of the best things about having hearing aids, in particular Lyric, is the adventure of discovering sounds that you have never heard or because of your loss hearing, rediscovering old sounds. I’m constantly amazed with the sounds I now hear, like geese honking as they fly overhead and the click of my fingers on the keys of my computer.
“One of the best things about having hearing aids, in particular Lyric, is the adventure of discovering sounds that you have never heard … or rediscovering old sounds.”
Jill: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts with us, Jim!