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Good Vibrations

High-tech device opens up the world of hearing

Little Harper Ward is able to hear thanks to a life-changing gift from Providence Health Care Foundation.
Little Harper Ward is able to hear thanks to a life-changing gift from Providence Health Care Foundation.

Harper Ward looks like any other 4-month-old. She is an adorable baby who lights up at the sound of her mom’s voice or her favorite musical toy.

But look a little closer and you’ll notice something a bit unusual about Harper’s headband. It’s not just a cute baby accessory. It’s allowing her to hear.

Diagnosing and treating her hearing issue as soon as possible has been key to her continued successful childhood development. Harper has a congenital abnormality of the ear called microtia. Her right ear is underdeveloped and malformed, and her ear canal is missing, resulting in profound hearing loss.

When she was just a few weeks old, a series of evaluations at Spokane Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic revealed that Harper’s deeper inner ear structures were normal, which meant that her condition was treatable.

“That was really good news,” says Harper’s pediatrician, Deborah Icenogle, MD, of Providence Pediatrics–North.

But the clock was ticking. “We know that hearing is crucial to early language development and social skills,” Dr. Icenogle says. That’s why experts recommend that patients receive the appropriate device before 6 months of age.

A Prayer Answered

Harper’s condition called for a bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA). Unlike a traditional hearing aid, which relies on a speaker in the ear, the BAHA sound processor converts incoming sounds into vibrations. But this very high-tech piece of equipment costs thousands of dollars— and was not covered by the family’s health insurance.

“We were on an emotional roller coaster,” says Rebecca Ward, Harper’s mom. “It was so exciting to learn that Harper would be able to hear, but we were devastated to discover our insurance had zero coverage for hearing devices.”

While the Wards started planning spaghetti feeds and other fundraisers, Dr. Icenogle had another idea. She hoped an answer to their prayers might come through the Providence Health Care Foundation, the fundraising arm of Sacred Heart Medical Center & Children’s Hospital and Providence Holy Family Hospital.

“New technologies can be life changing, but they’re often very expensive, and we need to work together to make things happen. I called the Providence Health Care Foundation and was delighted to learn that Harper’s need would be funded.”

Harper—and her parents—are happily adjusting to her new world of hearing.

“I have nothing but gratitude to all of Providence,” Ward says. “They have completely taken care of us from the beginning, during an extremely overwhelming time.”