Fish Hoek boy gets new hearing technology

Kai Petersen with his new hearing aid.

A little boy’s hearing in the classroom has been radically enhanced with his new hearing aid – and he is one of the first in South Africa to try out the wi-fi enabled hearing system.

Kai Petersen’s classroom experience changed on Thursday January 19, with the fitting of the Widex COM-Dex wireless device.

This was organised for him by his audiologist Natalie Buttress, through Widex.

Kai, 9, is at Fish Hoek Primary School and is managing in mainstream schooling, but the feedback on his old device often interfered with his hearing and concentration.

Kai was diagnosed with bilateral hearing loss at the age of four.

This all changed with a phone call from Natalie, to his mom, Chevone Petersen – Fish Hoek resident and founder of Decibels of Love, a small organisation based in Fish Hoek which is working with, and advocating for, families raising deaf or hard of hearing children.

“Chev, do you know if Kai uses the volume button on his hearing aids?”

Chevone says his was the question that changed everything.

“Even more strange was the fact that I was typing an email to her when I saw her call come through on my mobile,” she laughs.

A few weeks before this call, Chevone had asked Natalie for quotes for a discreet FM hearing system for Kai.

“I had explained that I would have some extra money and wanted to work out how much I would still need to fundraise for in order to get the FM before the 2017 school year starts.

“Grade 4 is the year when the children start moving from class to class for different subjects, and I understood that a smaller FM system would make moving around to the different classes a lot easier for my son, and wouldn’t look so intrusive,” she said.

Natalie’s next question was also an offer. “How would you like new hearing aids for Kai?”

Chevone said she was rooted to the spot in her kitchen wondering if Natalie was asking if she wanted a quote for new hearing aids, or whether she wanted to buy new hearing aids, or maybe she just wanted to know if new hearing aids were on the “needs” list at some point in the future.

Natalie then told Chevone that she had been twisting some arms at Widex about their COM-DEX, a wireless device which would work well in the classroom as it uses wi-fi technology.

And the rest, as it is said, is history.

Kai is one of the first in South Africa to try out the new transmitting microphone.

Because his old hearing aids weren’t compatible with the technology, Widex decided to donate new hearing aids to him.

His new hearing aids are far more technologically advanced than his old ones. It has 10 channels instead of five and it is bluetooth enabled. His new hearing
aid is specific for use with the COM-DEX in the classroom, and he will still have his old hearing aids for when he is just messing about.

Natalie said the sound quality will be much better.

“All I know is that grateful does not begin to describe how I feel right now. It doesn’t even come close,” says Chevone.

“Being a single parent, trying to juggle full time work (and my outreach passions and studying) has not been easy at all. Add to this the cost implications of special needs parenting, and you will understand how very worrying it can be,” Chevone said.

She and Kai both heartily thanked Widex and Chevone described Natalie as being the difference in their world.

“Natalie has really been amazing, she took him on as a pro-bono client without me even asking back in 2013. Her pro-bono offer was initially for the duration of his first hearing aids warranty – which ended in 2015, and thereafter she surprised me by letting me know that she will continue to look after Kai’s hearing pro-bono. So her services are free of charge (fittings and tests), we only pay for technology, repairs, parts, and this in itself is a huge saving for me as a single parent,” Chevone said.

“When she called me about the hearing aids, I really did not expect it. We are exceptionally fortunate to have this support. We are in that in-between bracket, not deaf enough for government technology and not financially secure enough for medial aid,” Chevone said.

“This is the catch 22 situation that many people do not know about, when it comes to special needs children like my son.”

“I am so thrilled for Kai. Happiness all round,” she said. She said his right hearing aid stopped working during the school holidays, so this donation could not have come at a better time. “Widex actually donated his first pair of hearing aids to him before he went to mainstream school.”

Chevone said that Kai has Asperger’s and fluctuating hearing loss, so his hearing is vital for his learning.