FORT JACKSON


Can you hear me now? Loud, clear with Dorn speech, audiology services

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Story by Jennifer Scales on 10/19/2017
Story and Photos by Jennifer Scales
Dorn VAMC Public Affairs

Tasting, seeing, smelling, feeling, and hearing are the five senses people hope to keep throughout their life. But sometimes, one of them may become impaired during their life cycle, especially with military Veterans.

When it comes to hearing loss, the Audiology and Speech Pathology department at the William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA Medical Center in Columbia, S. C., provides an all-embracing treatment and management of hearing. This relates to any function which not only includes hearing, but also speech, language, voice and swallowing disorders.

According to 2016 statistics from the Dorn audiology department, the 14 staff members who worked in the clinic at that time saw nearly 17,000 patients. These patients were all seen with clinical services either in Columbia, Anderson, or Greenville, S.C.

Just who or what do these patients encounter in the clinic? The following highlights a few of them.

Julia Jackson, health technician in the audiology department, has been a Dorn fixture for 29 years. She has worked in surgical service, emergency room, and outpatient surgery.

"I like what I do," Jackson said. "In the beginning, I had no intention of getting a job here because I live in Sumter and I just thought the drive would be too much. Yet, here I am, almost 30 years later, making that commute and loving every moment here."

Jackson has dedicated her time scheduling and taking on multi-functional taskings for the last 12 years developing long relationships with staff and Veterans in the speech clinic. "The people are all wonderfulthe Veterans are my sweethearts," Jackson added.

Army Veteran Brian Thomas is another resource for the clinic. Coming from the Army with nine years' worth of skills as a 91U (Ear, Nose, and Throat Technician), Thomas is responsible for the technical use of hearing aids.

"I repair hearing aids, process orders, and conduct classes on maintaining hearing aids," Thomas said. "My personal accomplishment comes from working with patients and the staff here, rendering service to them as it was to me when I was in the military."

Speech language pathologist, Robin Alexander, does a bit of everything in the Audiology and Speech clinic. She is also a part of the Traumatic Brain Injury and Poly Trauma Team at Dorn.

"Processing, comprehending, and responding is all language based," Alexander said. "Strokes, TBI's, neurological damage, multiple sclerosis, and ALS are just some diagnoses which can affect the brain's ability to understand speech and sound."

Alexander does practical work with patients who have swallowing disorders. "Swallowing and voice use the same structures," she added.

A Marine armorer Veteran, Alexander received most of her post high school education in the Sooner' state, ranging from an Associates in science from Murray State College in Tishomingo, Okla., a Bachelor of Science in speech language pathology from the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha, Okla., and Masters in language pathology from the University of Oklahoma.

"I see results every day, which makes this job rewarding," Alexander said. "When I see people changing and improving their interaction in society, well, that is what gets me."
Alexander also said, "I love this area. The Veterans Affairs is where I wanted to workthere was never any other place that I wanted to be."

Staff audiologist at Dorn, Rebecca Wyrwas, is also an Army Veteran. Her last assignment was that as chief of the hearing program at Fort Jackson, running the whole installation program to ensure everyone was hearing ready.

At Dorn, Wyrwas who hails from Cincinnati, Ohio, performs hearing assessments to determine hearing loss, nerve damage or medical intervention.

"Hearing loss is a quality of life issue," Wyrwas said. "I'm here ready to help improve in that quality for Veterans."

Willa Smalls, program support assistant for audiology and speech pathology, handles most of the administrative portion of the clinic, while working directly for the chief. She is proof positive that the Vets 4 Success program works, as that is how she came to get her position at Dorn. Plus, she was the driving force to ensure that the accomplishments and people of the clinic were duly recognized and noted.

"I enjoy working in any capacity that has to do with direct contact with people," Smalls said.

Smalls is also a Veteran of the Army, having served 24 years.

"We are all doing what we love here," Smalls said. "Helping Veterans and going beyond that 100 per cent for treatment is what we all get done."

Veterans apparently appreciate the service and care from the Dorn Audiology and Speech Language Pathology clinic. Here are some of their most recent comments.

COMMENT 1: "Before I received my hearing aids, I could not understand people trying to talk to me. I watched movies but could not hear what was said. I could not understand what my grandchildren were saying. Now I can."

COMMENT 2: "This is one of the best things the VA has done in Anderson. With my hearing aid, I can hear 100 percent better."

COMMENT 3: "I am better able to hear in meetings and I don't have to ask them to repeat questions."

COMMENT 4: "My wife is no longer frustrated with me since I can hear everything. Now she is much happier."

COMMENT 5: "The people here were just the best."

COMMENT 6: "I have found the life of sound that I had many years ago. The music, the birdsit's great."

COMMENT 7: "When I walked outside and heard the sounds of birds singing, insects, distant car sounds---it was like stepping out of a black and white picture into full color. I have to admit, my hands were shaking. It was so exciting!"

COMMENT 8: "To hear better is an improvement in my life."

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