BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Seventeen hearing-impaired Guatemalan children
and adults will have tubes implanted in their ears during two days
in April by an ear-nose-and-throat specialist from the University
at Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Mark Hoeplinger, M.D., a UB clinical instructor in
otolaryngology, initially diagnosed the hearing problems in January
during a week-long trip to two remote villages in the Guatemalan
highlands, sponsored by a humanitarian organization called Faith in
Hoeplinger was part of a contingent of physicians, dentists,
nurses, audiologists and pharmacists who, during their mission,
treated nearly 2,300 people, many of whom never had seen a
The group flew into Guatemala City and was escorted to the
villages by a military contingent; Guatemala is considered one of
the most violent countries in Central America by the U.S.
Department of State.
Hoeplinger saw more than 200 children and adults in the village
clinics during this initial trip. While several needed surgery,
many patients had healthy ear drums but their auditory nerves were
defective. Hoeplinger had brought rudimentary hearing aids donated
by the manufacturers to help those patients. Fitting them produced
some dramatic results.
"A five-year-old named Miguel had a severely deteriorated
auditory nerve that provided only a little sound, but his ear drums
were healthy, so we fit him with a hearing aid," said Hoeplinger.
"Distant music was wafting in through the open windows, and when
the audiologist switched on the hearing aid, Miguel started dancing
around the room to the music. We almost started crying."
Ten-year-old Ulysses provided another memorable story. "He had
fractured his skull as a baby, which left him with a 70-percent
hearing loss, and he never learned to speak." said Hoeplinger. "He,
too, had healthy ear drums. We fit him with a hearing aid, and his
face lit up. The audiologist started working with him, and within
30 minutes he could say 'hola' [hello in Spanish]."
"When we were packing up that night, Ulysses came running up to
me, grabbed my arms, and cried 'Hola!' A patient like Ulysses,"
said Hoeplinger, "you can never forget him."
During the April return trip he will operate on the 17 patients
that needed surgery and drain accumulated fluid from the middle ear
that prevents sound signals from reaching the auditory nerve. He
also will insert a shunt to allow continuous drainage.
"The fluid, of course, should never be there," said Hoeplinger.
"Middle ear fluid, or 'effusion,' always causes hearing loss and
often causes ear infections. This is particularly problematic in a
child, because if it occurs at any early age, the hearing loss can
arrest or retard the development of speech and language."
The surgeries will take place in a hospital in the historical
city of Antigua, which is some distance from the villages. The
patients will be bused to Antigua and housed before their surgeries
and during recovery.
Hoeplinger wants to return to Guatemala again in winter 2010 to
start an otolaryngology training program for Guatemalan
"The nearest ENT program is in Mexico City," he said. "Guatemala
needs its own training program, and I hope to help get that
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