Oxford man launches fund-raising campaign to buy new hearing aids

Oxford resident Justin Willcock is legally blind and has hearing loss in both ears. He walks around town with Alex, his guide dog.
Oxford resident Justin Willcock is legally blind and has hearing loss in both ears. He walks around town with Alex, his guide dog.

Sight, sound, smell, touch and taste.

These are the five senses that help people process the world around them, communicate with others and keep themselves healthy and safe.

Justin Willcock has a medical condition that’s diminished two of these essential senses and now, he needs the community’s help to ensure he doesn’t lose anymore of what he has left.

The 38-year-old Oxford Village resident started a page on the GoFundMe website to raise money to purchase new hearing aids.

Willcock 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 compared it to “looking through a straw.”

As a result, he’s been wearing hearing aids since around the age of 5 and was legally blind by the time he turned 30. His visual field – the total area a person can see without moving their eyes from side to side – is less than 10 degrees.

He described his hearing loss, which is in both ears, as “moderate.”

“If I take my hearing aids off, when people talk, it reminds me of adults talking to Charlie Brown,” he explained. “I can hear the tone, but I can’t hear what they’re saying.”

Willcock’s current hearing aids, which he’s had for the last four-and-a-half to five years, are “working fairly well,” but that’s because he takes “good care of them to make them last.”

The average life span of quality hearing aids is approximately three to five years. After that, Willcock said “things start breaking down more and more” and repair bills start mounting.

Willcock wants to prevent this from happening and prevent any interruption in his ability to hear with the assistance of these vital devices. “It’s hard enough already not being able to see,” he said.

Last year, Willcock 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.

Although Alex helps a great deal when it comes to navigating the streets of Oxford, Willcock must still rely on his hearing when he’s out and about.

“Alex is great, but I’m still in charge,” he explained. “I tell him when to stop. I tell him when to go. I give him the commands. Even though he’s the Leader Dog, I’m still the leader.

“I have to use my hearing to judge when it’s safe to go or not to go. He’s my backup. If I miscalculate something, he’s going to stop me, hopefully.”

Willcock also needs his hearing to make sure his son Joseph, who turns 5 this month, stays safe. Willcock walks to and from his home on W. Burdick St. to the Oxford Early Learning Center, next to Oxford Elementary on Pontiac St., to pick up Joseph from the Great Start Readiness Program.

“Sure, I can hear the traffic, but (without the hearing aids) I might not be able to pinpoint exactly where it’s at until I’m a little too close,” he said.

To get new hearing aids, Willcock needs $5,000. The type he currently has sits in his ears and they are custom made to fit comfortably. “A very nice couple from church, they gave me his old hearing aids (that) he never wore, but problem is, they were a custom fit for his ear, not mine,” Willcock said.

Willcock noted he prefers in-the-ear hearing aids as opposed to behind-the-ear models because he had the latter as a kid and “they fell off a lot.”

Being legally blind, he simply can’t have hearing aids doing that. “I can’t just pick them up right away,” he said.

That’s why in-the-ear devices are preferable. “They don’t ever fall out,” Willcock said. “I can turn my head like crazy and they won’t fall out.”

Willcock learned Medicare will pay up to $1,000 for new hearing aids, so he’s relying upon the GoFundMe page to generate the rest. In light of this, he reduced the listed goal from $5,000 to $4,000.

Currently, Willcock is a stay-at-home dad who collects disability benefits from the federal government. In addition to Joseph, he has another son, Jackson, who’s 7 years old, and a wife, Danielle.

He attends Immanuel Congregational United Church of Christ on Hovey St. and is grateful to two of his fellow churchgoers who recently gave him $220 to help out.

Willcock opened an account for the money at Oxford Bank. Anyone wishing to make donation via a deposit can go there and do so by mentioning his name.

When it comes to getting new hearing aids, Willcock is hoping for an upgrade. “If I can get a little better (model), that would be great,” he noted. “Right now, the iPhone X is out. My hearing aids are like the iPhone 5.”

If that’s not possible, he at least wants something that’s comparable to what he has now. “As long as I can hear, that’s all I care about,” Willcock said.

To contribute , visit www.gofundme.com/jn65ja-new-hearing-aids.


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