For five years, Peter Giordano’s hearing was in steady decline. Nearly all facets of the 74-year old La Honda resident’s life suffered — his work as an audio engineer, his social life and his relationship with his wife, Deanna Anderson. Anderson recalled increasing tensions with her husband at home as his ears deteriorated.
“It was constantly, ‘What?’ to me,” Deanna Anderson said. “Peter would say, ‘What? I didn’t hear you,’ and I would say it really loud, and he’d say, ‘Well I don’t need you to do that’.”
Giordano eventually ordered a hearing aid advertised on television, but his experience with the product was unsatisfactory, he said. He struggled to troubleshoot the device, and over-the-phone customer service simply wasn’t helpful. Through his wife’s friendship with Pacific Hearing Connection co-founder and Vice President Dr. Jane Baxter, Giordano was set up with an appointment with Dr. Becky Dolan, the agency’s director of audiology.
Dolan herself suffers from hearing loss. Her experience allowed her to connect with Giordano in a way few others could; through Pacific Hearing Connection, he received treatment and hearing aids that he never would have been able to afford before.
“Peter would have ended up with an inferior product,” Anderson said.
Though Pacific Hearing Connection operates out of the Los Altos office for now, those behind the nonprofit say they hope to expand the organization’s efforts outward. Through Wish Book donations, Pacific Hearing Connection would purchase portable equipment and pay for the staffing it needs to perform examinations in the field.
“We want to go out into the community where the people live,” Baxter said. “Our hardest thing is having people know about us because they don’t live near our office … We really want to get a van that we can just go out and see where these people are.”
The fast-growing nonprofit was formed off the back of a longtime medical practice rooted in the Bay Area.
Dr. Jennifer Fargo Lathrop opened Pacific Hearing Service in 1977 as a for-profit audiology practice. It was a small start-up office in Los Altos for its first years in existence, operating part time. Baxter, who joined in 1986, and Dr. Deborah Clark, who joined in 1998, prided themselves on being “patient first,” as Baxter put it, and for keeping up with the latest technologies and advancement in audiology.
The company eventually grew enough to open a second office in Atherton, later moving to Menlo Park. In 2014, the pair decided to embark on international humanitarian trips to low-income countries without world-class hearing care. In trips to countries like Guatemala, Mozambique and even some middle-eastern refugee camps, an epiphany changed the course of Pacific Hearing Service.
“Those kids can’t go to school. If they have hearing loss, they’re doing nothing,” Baxter said. “They’re kind of tossed out by society … We thought, gosh, all these people we’re giving our service and there’s people in our own backyard that can’t get services.”
They then diagnosed a problem in the Bay Area. Given the region’s ever-increasing cost of living and disparate levels of income, people tend to “slip through the cracks,” Baxter said. Many do not qualify for government-assistance programs, such as MediCal, but can’t afford the often-times exorbitant costs of audiology and hearing care.
The isolation of hearing loss, Baxter says, leads to other health complications like depression. That’s why Pacific Hearing Service opened a nonprofit in 2016 called Pacific Hearing Connection, based in their Los Altos office. There, income-based qualifying patients can seek hands-on care for a fraction of the cost of going through traditional health insurance.
“These are very, very high-end hearing aids,” Baxter said. “Our nonprofit patients are getting the best of the best.”
The new nonprofit quickly changed lives in the Bay Area. Baxter recalled one man whose poor performance in job interviews prevented him from getting work; after he received hearing aids from Pacific Hearing Connection, he was soon hired. Another woman, a high-ranking Silicon Valley tech worker, lost her hearing after head trauma sustained in a car crash. Baxter said Pacific Hearing Connection helped her recover some of her hearing ability.
Giordano credited the organization for helping revert to his old self once again. He’s more social now, he said, more willing to go out for a bite to eat or to chat with fellow musicians. His confidence is back.
“I’m listening for the details [now],” he said. “Those come easier now … [Pacific Hearing Connection] are people I trust to take care of a critical sense.”
There’s a greater sense of fulfillment that comes from recipients of Pacific Hearing Connection’s care. As Baxter puts it, the organization wants its patients to receive a “hand up, not a hand out,” so to further give understanding of the charity’s value, Baxter asks patients to perform volunteer work of their own. Whether it’s through church, animal shelters, babysitting for single parents or whatever patient choose to help with, encouraging their patients “pay it forward” is the organization’s mission. Pacific Hearing Connection calls it their circle of giving.
“Because it’s so isolating, people with hearing loss tend to withdraw,” Baxter said. “Therefore we have them do some volunteer work of their choice … Something that’s going to give them pride and value within their community.”
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
Wish Book is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated by The Mercury News. Since 1983, Wish Book has been producing series of stories during the holiday season that highlight the wishes of those in need and invite readers to help fulfill them.
Donations will help Pacific Hearing Connection improve and expand outreach efforts and patient care, helping serve at least 200 people, with hearing aids and screenings. Goal: $20,000
HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com or mail in the coupon.
Read other Wish Book stories, view photos and video at wishbook.mercurynews.com.