In honor of Deaf Awareness Month, Happy Ears Hearing Center is excited to spotlight one of our very own Audiologists. Dr. Matthew Wetmore, who has lived with hearing loss his entire life and successfully utilizes a cochlear implant and hearing aid.
At Happy Ears, we seek out providers who are not only amazing clinicians but who are empathetic and understanding to those experiencing tinnitus and hearing loss. Dr. Wetmore was one provider whose story caught our attention while he was pursuing his 4th year externship. He has such a big passion to help parents, children, and adults who are experiencing a hearing loss diagnosis for the first time. Dr. Wetmore is also very passionate about helping patients obtain the best hearing healthcare with the best hearing outcomes.
Dr. Wetmore works out of our North Peoria location.
Dr. Wetmore, what age were you diagnosed with hearing loss?
I was diagnosed with hearing loss when I was 14 months old. Newborn hearing screenings were not routine practice yet when I was born. There was no family history of hearing loss or the particular reason that my parents would be concerned that I might have hearing loss when I was born. My mother had a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
When I was about 12 months old, my parents started suspecting there was a hearing problem when I would not turn around if my name was called. My grandmother had indicated that while she was changing my diapers, I would look out the window instead of her when she was talking to me.
There were a few different situations when I didn’t wake up to sound, even when it was right next to me. My father practiced the trumpet in the room next to me and my mom would vacuum, and I would sleep through the noise. My parents ended up taking me to the local university to have my hearing tested. This was the first time it was documented that I had a significant hearing loss.
It was suspected that I was likely born with the hearing loss. The cause of my hearing loss was unknown at that time, but we later learned that I had enlarged vestibular aqueduct (EVA) syndrome which is associated with the hearing loss.
How did your family handle your hearing loss?
When my family first learned about my hearing loss, they went through a grieving process. During that process, my parents decided that they were going to dedicate their time to learn about hearing loss and how they could help me to be successful.
My parents learned sign language, made sure my hearing aids were on and working, and enrolled me in a parent/infant program and preschool at the state school for the deaf.
When I was approximately 4 years of age, my parents took me to audiologists who specialized in treating children with hearing loss. At that time, the audiologist put stronger hearing aids on me and eventually I received my cochlear implant.
Once I received the implant, I started making some real progress in speech-language development, as well as catching up academically.
My parents always pointed out that they knew there was never anything wrong with my intelligence, just that my hearing loss interfered with my access to learning and speech-language.
There were times where my parents were discouraged, especially when school was difficult, but they always kept their eyes on the next goal and worked towards that. My parents have always said that it was important to listen to the professionals who were providing the recommendations and committed to family support.
How did you cope with hearing loss growing up?
My hearing loss is something I have had since I was born. Since all I have known is my hearing loss, I do not have anything to really compare it to.
In other words, I did not view my hearing loss as something that was a problem, it was just who I was. I didn’t lose anything because I didn’t have it, to begin with. Hearing loss can really shape the way a person views themselves. I didn’t grow up feeling that my hearing loss limited me from doing anything I wanted to do.
That being said, there were and still are some occasions where I feel my hearing loss may have prevented or continues to prevent me from enjoying the full experience of certain activities.
How were your friendships with other kids?
I had great friendships growing up and did not have much trouble making friends. I never thought of my hearing loss as a limiting factor in my friendships.
If kids were curious and asked me about my hearing loss, I would answer their questions. It was never something that was a topic of concern or something that made them look at me differently.
What helped was I did not look at my hearing loss as a factor that made me any different than my peers. I was involved in all of the same sports and activities as normal hearing children and was included in everything as much as they were.
When did you get a cochlear implant?
I received my cochlear implant when I was 8 years old.
How did you handle high school and college with a hearing impairment?
I spent a lot of my childhood playing catch up in school. I was always working as much, if not more, than my peers to complete my homework and do well in school.
By the time I was in high school, I was managing my schoolwork, extracurricular activities, and a part-time job on my own. I carried the same work ethic into college.
What made you decide to choose your career path?
Growing up with hearing loss, and the experiences that I have had throughout my life, initially led me towards my career path as a teacher. I was a deaf and hard of hearing itinerant teacher that worked with students with hearing loss of various age groups.
I always had a passion and interest in audiology, even when I was teaching. A few of the students that I was teaching needed me to attend their audiology appointment with them. Going to those appointments and seeing what the audiologists would do to help them motivated me to go back to school to pursue a doctorate degree in audiology.
My career path has always been led by my interest in helping others with hearing loss and allowing me to utilize my personal and professional skills and experiences. Going from teaching to audiology, I am still able to pursue my goal of serving those with hearing loss.
What made you choose to come to Happy Ears?
When I read Dr. Dewsnup’s bio on the website about her experience with her own son’s hearing loss, I felt instantly drawn to their story. I felt like it connected with my own story in some way.
Happy Ears is a place that provides support, encouragement, and treatment options every day for the families and patients that come through their doors.
That is one of the driving reasons behind my dream to go into audiology and I wanted to be part of a team that was really making a difference in the community it serves.
What would you say to others who are in the same situation with their hearing loss and have the same challenges?
People with hearing loss are no different than those with normal hearing. They just have additional challenges that they have to overcome to get where they want to be.
Don’t let yourself or others compare you to normal hearing people. We are all unique in our own way, hearing or not.
Although my hearing loss has presented plenty of challenges that I have had to overcome, I feel that it has helped form me into a better and harder working person as a result. In some ways, it has given me a unique set of skills that others may not have, such as viewing situations from a different lens or a different perspective.
Though it can be discouraging at times, a strong support group can go a long way in encouraging a person to press on and continue striving for success.
Matthew Wetmore, Au.D.
Doctor of Audiology
Happy Ears Hearing Center