Donors, audiologist help local man get new hearing aids

With new hearing aids and a guide dog, Justin Willcock is ready to navigate downtown Oxford.
With new hearing aids and a guide dog, Justin Willcock is ready to navigate downtown Oxford.

Thanks to some generous local folks and a compassionate health care professional, an Oxford Village man got the new hearing aids he needed due to a genetic disorder.

“I will pay it forward. I promise that,” said Justin Willcock, a 38-year-old husband and father of two who lives on W. Burdick St.

Between the approximately $3,500 in donations he received from people in the area, including a $2,000 contribution from someone who wished to remain anonymous, and the big discount provided to him by May Audiology and Hearing Aid Center in Oakland Township, Willcock was able to purchase a pair of Phonak Virto B90-Titanium in-the-ear hearing aids.

“Sounds are definitely clearer and sharper,” he said. “There’s more depth to them. It’s hard to explain . . . I can hear my own voice better.”

Audiologist Catherine May, of Lake Orion, who co-owns the center with her sister Julie Anna Hosbein, said Willcock’s previous hearing aids were “excellent,” but his new ones are “top level” with more advanced technology.

“The better the technology, the better you can hear speech and noise,” she said.

Phonak Virto B90-Titanium hearing aids have an operating system (AutoSense OS) that analyzes the sounds around a person every 0.4 seconds and automatically adapts to every environment to deliver excellent hearing performance and sound quality in a variety of places, from noisy restaurants and vehicles to concert halls and homes, according to the company’s literature.

There’s no need for the wearer to adjust them manually.

“The newer technology, especially the top-of-the-line stuff, will help (Willcock) hear like what you and I would consider (to be) more normal,” May explained. “This, to him, will be the most natural, normal hearing that he’s had in who knows how long. I’m excited for him to try these.”

Willcock admitted it will take some time for him to adjust to the new hearing aids, to get used to “the new way things sound,” but overall, “I definitely like them.”

Willcock’s new hearing aids are made from medical-grade titanium, which, according to Phonak’s literature, is “incredibly strong, light and durable.” It’s also water and dust resistant.

“That’s something new in the field,” May said. “They’re pretty much indestructible because they’re titanium.”

Willcock requires hearing aids because he was born with Usher syndrome, a condition that leads to partial or total hearing loss and vision loss that worsens over time due to an eye disease known as retinitis pigmentosa (RP).

RP causes night blindness and a loss of peripheral vision (side vision). Willcock said it’s like constantly “looking through a straw.”

He was legally blind by the time he turned 30 and last year, he got his first-ever guide dog, a black Labrador retriever named Alex, who was furnished by the Rochester Hills-based Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Hearing loss or deafness in Usher syndrome is caused by the abnormal development of hair cells, or sensory (or sound) receptor cells, in the inner ear, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Hair cells transform sound vibrations into messages that travel to the brain.

Willcock has been wearing hearing aids since around the age of 5. He said when he takes them off, he can hear the tone of people speaking, but he can’t understand what they’re saying. He said it reminds him “of adults talking to Charlie Brown.”

Although Willcock’s previous hearing aids were working fairly well, they were getting older and he feared they would start breaking down, leading to repair bills and interruptions in his ability to hear.

Even though he has a guide dog, Willcock noted, “I rely on my ears so much when I walk around town.”

For example, he walks to and from the Oxford Early Learning Center, next to Oxford Elementary on Pontiac St., to pick up his 5-year-old son Joseph from the Great Start Readiness Program.

Given his limited income – he’s a stay-at-home dad who collects disability benefits from the federal government – Willcock decided to start a fund-raising campaign to get new ones.

The Leader published a story about his efforts in January.

Over the next few months, Willcock received approximately $3,500 in donations. He was blown away that so many strangers were willing to lend him a helping hand.

“They don’t even know me and they were helping me out,” he said. “I was very grateful for that.”

One individual, who wished to remain anonymous, gave Willcock $2,000.

All this person asked in return was for Willcock to “pay it forward.”

That’s exactly what he plans to do.

Through his volunteer work at Immanuel Congregational United Church of Christ (1 Hovey St.) in Oxford Village, Willcock said, “I plan on helping people whenever I can.”

“If I can help, in some way, make things easier for people (in need), I will,” he pledged. “I’m going to continue paying it forward as much as I can.”

But it wasn’t just the donors who helped Willcock. When May learned of Willcock’s efforts through the Leader’s story, she decided to pitch in.

“When I saw that article, I was so afraid that he was going to get scammed by someone because there’s so many bad things in our field,” she said.

She also thought to herself, “Good for him, being proactive.”

“He’s a young guy who has a family. I was going to give him a discount . . . so I knew he (would have) good hearing aids,” May said.

She and Phonak worked together and were able to get Willcock his hearing aids for the discounted price of $4,200.

“I would say these hearing aids, on the open market, go for anywhere from $5,900 to $7,000 (for a pair),” she said.

“It’s amazing, if you start asking, what you can get,” May added. “It’s not just that manufacturer. Other manufacturers will always work with you, too.”

In addition to helping Willcock enhance his quality of life, May hopes this story will help combat the negative reputation that hearing aid providers have garnered over the years.

“There’s so many horror stories about hearing aid places – it gives us a bad name,” she said.

Like Willcock, May was quite impressed by generosity of the anonymous $2,000 donor. “I just thought it was wonderful,” she said. “There are so many good people out here. What a great thing. If that (donor) came in to see me, I would give him the same discount . . . That was incredible that he did that.”

 

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