A group of little girls in matching blue-and-pink flowered dresses and flanked by their parents made their way down the hall at Central Michigan University's audiology clinic.
The colorful parade Tuesday was a familial show of support for Quinn, 9, Riley, 6, and Aoibhinn, 5, the three of Levi and Sara Sturm's five children who arrived to have their cochlear implants activated at CMU's
Carls Center for Clinical Care and Education.
It was a joyful day, with each child giving high-fives to Carissa Moeggenberg, CMU cochlear implant audiologist, as they recognized sounds in ears that had fallen silent to the world due to enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome, an inner ear deformity.
"Everybody thought we were crazy when we started the audiology doctoral program in 1998. Now we are changing hundreds of lives." — Michael Stewart, director of audiology
The joy experienced by the Berrien Springs family has been duplicated for 17 other children so far this year and more than 200 adults and children since 2007.
The needs of those children and adults might not have ever been filled if it weren't for the dreams of Michael Stewart, director of audiology, and others at Central who pushed for an audiology doctoral program that graduated its first class — and the first in the United States — in 1998.
"Everybody thought we were crazy when we started," Stewart said.
"And now, we not only are providing a service that is hard to find in central to northern Michigan — an underserved population — but even more importantly, our students are getting experience in cochlear implants and activation that will give them a big edge in the job market.
There is no other program like it in Michigan that gives students that opportunity, said Moeggenberg, a 25-year veteran of audiology who has been at CMU for two years.
CMU's reputation, depth of service reach more communities
The number of patients served for hearing implants has increased by nearly 25 percent in recent years, said Nicole Ferguson, director of clinical services and instruction in CMU's audiology program.
"The growth is happening because we offer specialty services that teach the breadth and depth of audiology," Ferguson said. "There are other clinics in the region that offer a variety of services, but not to the extent that we offer here at CMU.
"We are the go-to place."
What also makes CMU's program unique is that its placement in The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions allows it to draw on the expertise of physical therapists, speech-language pathologists, psychologists and faculty from the nearby CMU
College of Medicine.
"It's a multidisciplinary team that is working with these children," Moeggenberg said. "We have support from the dean on down. That's what makes this program work so well."
Part of the team was Dr. Candice Colby, who surgically implanted the hearing devices at her clinic in Farmington Hills.
Extending that depth of services to Michigan's impoverished and far-flung communities is a large part of the school's mission as it educates people about hearing loss and treatment options, she said.
CMU brings hearing to underserved areas
Helping the department reach into needy areas is a $375,000, three-year
Carls Foundation grant Moeggenberg has used to tell area communities they don't have to go all the way to the Detroit area to find top-quality services, they can get them here in Mount Pleasant.
CMU has created interprofessional collaboration with surgeons in Grand Rapids, Bay City, Midland and the Detroit area for the medical management of the implants, while patients come to the Carls Center for evaluation, activation and follow-up.
One plan under discussion is to take the Mobile Health Central traveling clinic to the Upper Peninsula to offer education and hearing assessments in underserved areas there.
"Taking part in that outreach gives our students a broader perspective while continuing to fulfill our mission," Stewart said.
And other families, like the Sturms, will hear their children yell from another room, "Now I can hear the xylophone! It sounds amazing!"