A Few Minutes With

Tammy Kuhn, thanks to the Florida Vocational Rehabilitation Program, received hearing aids to improve her quality of lifeTammie Kuhn
Vocational rehabilitation opens a new world of sound – and success

By Robert Zerbe

Imagine living life without hearing the sound of a leaf crunching underfoot, or birds singing, or a baby’s soft sigh as she sleeps.

For Tammie Kuhn, this was a reality she endured for many quiet years after mastoid disease, an ailment that ate away at the mastoid bone in her ear, left her with 40 percent hearing in her left ear and 70 percent in her right.

Kuhn, 46, only started to experience sounds others take for granted a few years ago when the Florida Vocational Rehabilitation Program, an initiative of the Florida Department of Education that helps individuals overcome disabilities in order to obtain jobs, paid for her to receive hearing aids.

Kuhn’s problems started with human error.

“The reason that I got mastoid disease to start with is because I was allergic to penicillin,” Kuhn said. She explained that doctors thought penicillin would take care of an ear infection that she had as a 2-year-old when, in reality, it made the problem worse and caused the mastoid disease. It wasn’t until Kuhn was 5 that doctors diagnosed her penicillin allergy.

Surgery when Kuhn was 7 was designed to clean the mastoid bone and also to reconstruct it, as it was literally being eaten away by the infection. Kuhn said that the two years leading up to the surgery were “horrible,” filled with desensitizing shots and painful cleanings.

“Every morning before I went to school, my mother would put alcohol down in my ear,” Kuhn said. “She says she still remembers me running down the halls screaming.”

Kuhn didn’t talk much about her condition at work but decided she needed to do something about her hearing loss after a meeting one day. While talking to one of her supervisors, Kuhn failed to realize how loudly she was speaking. The supervisor told her boss that she needed to speak more softly, and Kuhn finally admitted that she had a hearing loss.

“In a way, it was a good thing because it made me think ‘You know, I really need to do something about this,’” Kuhn said.

She said she learned about Vocational Rehabilitation through one of her ear, nose and throat doctors and, in the fall of 2004, she finally got her $4,000 hearing aids. Walking out of the doctor’s office that day, Kuhn said she heard the crunching of leaves under her feet for the first time.

One of Kuhn’s supervisors at the Florida Department of Health has said that Kuhn has “blossomed,” advancing to progressively more responsible positions with the state of Florida. She currently is a safety coordinator for the Department of Health.

After participating in the program and receiving her hearing aids, Kuhn received her bachelor’s degree. She had attempted to get her degree years before, without the benefit of hearing aids – and had to quit.

“It was a struggle going to school in a classroom setting because it was hard to hear,” Kuhn said.

Despite this accomplishment, Kuhn said she would like to go even farther and get a master’s degree in public health so that she could help others with disabilities like her own.

“There’s nothing like the world of sound until you have a hearing loss,” Kuhn said. “When you can hear again, walk on a leaf for the first time and you’ll know what I mean.”

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