Noel Crosby had more than her share of problems growing up: a parental divorce “at a time when no one got divorced,” as she puts it, problems with a speech defect, low self-esteem, difficulty in school and a wrenching relocation from her Manchester, N.H. home to Sarasota, FL to live with her dad in her grandmother’s house. “I was lost at the time,” she says. But she got through it, with help from a Sarasota teacher who believed in her and encouraged her to go on to college.
She did go on to college, and then some. She earned an associate’s degree in liberal arts, then a bachelor of science degree, magna cum laude, at Florida State University in Tallahassee in 1983. Three years later she had her master’s degree from FSU, and in 2000 she earned her doctorate in audiology at the University of Florida. She now has a flourishing audiology practice (Advanced Hearing Solutions) in Englewood and a small office at the Health Clinic in Boca Grande. Noel and husband Michael were married in 1991, and they have a daughter, Micah, who is a teacher of digital design at Booker High School in Sarasota.
Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it? And it is, but as her business has grown and prospered, Noel has never forgotten her beginnings. “I’ve always felt a need to give something back to the community, and to help other people, just as I was helped when I felt lost,” she says. “Especially, I’ve always wanted to do a service trip to another country, where I could truly help indigent people with hearing problems.” A few years back she enrolled her company in the Entheos Audiology Cooperative, an organization that arranges exactly those kinds of efforts abroad.
As her first project, Noel joined a group from Entheos that in January of 2017 spent a week in Guatemala, where they provided a range of hearing services for needy but underserved people living in the mountain-and-lake region near the town of Panajachel. “We paid our own expenses for travel, food, lodging, whatever,” says Noel, “and the conditions there were not ideal. We had to travel by bus, boat and standing in the back of a pickup truck to reach the remote areas where we were to set up our makeshift clinic. Lines of people would be waiting to get their ears inspected.”
Wax removal was the initial effort, and many locals had wax that was impacted after years of accumulating. “Following the wax removal, we would do a hearing screening,” says Noel. “If they passed, then their screening was complete. If they failed the screening, we would then conduct a hearing test. Based on their test results, we would then fit them with hearing aids, using custom instant molds made by some of our volunteers.
“Three different hearing aid manufacturers –Oticon, Widex and ReSound– had donated most of the hearing aids, and we were able to fit them to patients of all ages. We also used hearing aids that were donated by individuals. We fit children who had never heard before and didn’t know the sound of their parents’ voices. It was an emotional experience and resulted in a lot of happy tears. One patient, a male teacher, was overwhelmed with the thought that he would be able to hear his students and wife and daughters after having felt ‘invisible’ for years.”
The trip was so successful that Noel decided to expand her efforts to other countries. Under the aegis of Entheos she has now been to Ecuador, Guatemala for a second time, Zambia, Mozambique, Jordan, the West Bank and South Africa, giving the gift of hearing to people in need. Conditions in those countries are not ideal. Many villages are not on any electrical grid system, and those that are encounter frequent power outages. Weather, disease, lack of potable water and poor sanitary conditions make the lives of the visiting team members difficult while they are there. But these are highly motivated professionals, who pay their own airfare and on-site expenses for the privilege of helping the needy.
A hearing care team consists of 10 to 36 persons, mostly audiologists but also including one or two otologists (ENT specialists) plus audiologic assistants and volunteers. Each visit lasts for about a week. The team works with nonprofit organizations in the target country to arrange for ear cleaning (irrigation) and testing for 300 to 400 patients. Of those, perhaps 200 will receive hearing aids.
“We try to send follow-up teams every six months after that, and we seek sustainability in the target country by training their people to continue good hearing care practices,” Noel says.
She has found it convenient to take two or three trips a year for these projects. “I like to travel, and this way I get to see places that the typical tourist won’t visit. I see the country with totally different eyes. Helping these people who are so grateful for what we do is very rewarding, and it leaves me feeling renewed when I’m back home.”
And it occurred to Noel that back home she could do the same things she was doing in Third World countries. So she has established a new project, “Hearing the Call, Englewood,” under the Entheos umbrella. “There are hearing-impaired people right here in Englewood who don’t have the money to purchase a good pair of hearing aids,” she says. That cost can be $4,000 or more, and medical insurance plans typically do not cover the cost of hearing aids. Under “Hearing the Call, Englewood” a patient who qualifies as financially in need must agree to do a few hours of community service or get someone else to perform the service on their behalf. After testing and fitting, the patient will receive brand new hearing aids for a cost of $100 to $200, depending upon the custom-made features included. That’s pretty special.
To apply, call Advanced Hearing Solutions at (941) 474-8393 and ask about “Hearing the Call, Englewood,” or email: email@example.com. You could be glad you did … and Noel would be glad you did, too.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to:
firstname.lastname@example.org. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person's background.