Chemotherapy caused Audrey to have hearing loss. An audiologist at Johns Hopkins All Children's turned her on to a fashionable choice.
As a 9-year-old, Audrey already has dealt with more life challenges than anyone should in a lifetime.
An identical twin, born eight weeks premature, she and her sister began their first 12 weeks of life in the neonatal intensive care unit of an Indiana hospital. Soon after being discharged home, she was diagnosed with stage 3 liver cancer. By the time she was 5 months old, she had received five rounds of chemotherapy. Her twin sister, on the other hand, turned out to be very healthy.
After 13 months, Audrey rang the symbolic bell, signifying that she was finally through with her chemotherapy.
“She’s always had the attitude of a fighter,” says her mom, Ashley.
Ashley and her husband, along with her daughters and other family members, decided to leave Indiana and move to Zephyrhills, Florida, to get a new start on life. But the new start was a rough one. Not long after arriving in Florida, Audrey’s father died unexpectedly, and it turns out, Audrey’s medical journey was far from over.
“She was 3 years old when she started to feel the aftereffects of the chemotherapy,” Ashley says.
It didn’t take long for this family to be introduced to the medical programs and services at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Audrey was having gastrointestinal and neurological issues and needed to see a variety of pediatric specialists, including an endocrinologist because of her short stature. All the services were available at the hospital and its outpatient care centers.
During a hearing screening at her pediatrician’s office, it was determined she also had a significant hearing loss. A further exam by audiologists at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Outpatient Care, Brandon, confirmed that diagnosis and she was fit with hearing aids.
“Hearing loss can be a side effect from chemotherapy,” says Brittany Levin, Au.D., a clinical audiologist. “Audrey has mild to severe sensorineural hearing loss in both ears. It’s a permanent hearing loss. She will be a hearing aid user the rest of her life.”
Audrey uses her hearing aids faithfully, Levin says. “Our goal is for patients to wear their hearing aids during all waking hours to facilitate brain growth and to assist in development of speech and language, social skills, and for academic success.”
While the hearing aids had a positive impact on Audrey’s quality of life, it also caused a new problem. She started getting bullied at school. Kids were making fun of her hearing aids and telling her they were ugly.
“When children wear hearing aids, even the ones to match skin or hair color, the hearing aids are still noticeable. Fortunately, hearing aids for children have come a long way,” Levin explains. “The manufacturers make them in fun colors, so the devices look less medical and more stylish for children and teens, increasing their acceptance of the device. The goal is for them to feel confident when they wear the hearing aids.”
“I told Audrey that other patients found some really nice hearing aid accessories and jewelry online. She really wanted to wear earrings, but because of the hearing aids and her glasses, she felt like there was a lot of weight on and around her ears. I told her maybe you can find something to put on the hearing aids instead.
“I think that may have been what sparked her interest,” Levin continues. “She decided to start making her own hearing aid jewelry and charms, the kind that that would be lightweight and not cause squealing or whistling sounds from the hearing aids when something rubs up against them. That’s truly amazing for a 9-year-old. Everything is made by hand from materials she buys in stores and online.”
Audrey is especially proud of the earrings she makes that glow in the dark. Her other creations include holiday and seasonal charms. Her favorite design is butterflies, she says.
She wears some of her creations and gives others away to kids with hearing aids. She recently donated 75 pairs to kids with hearing aids due to hearing loss from chemotherapy through the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. She also gave some to the audiologists at Johns Hopkins All Children’s to share with patients.
Donations from friends and family helped Audrey purchase the jewelry and charms she needed to make the earrings. “Instead of toys for her birthday, she asked for jewelry supplies,” Ashley says. “To make 20 pairs of earrings, it probably costs around $40-50 dollars, just for materials.”
Audrey thinks she has found a special niche because she’s not aware of others making this type of product for kids with hearing aids. Eventually, she would like to have her own business and donate proceeds from her sales to help kids who cannot afford hearing aids.
She has even picked out a name for her business — “Audrey’s Charms.”
“I want people to gain confidence when they wear my hearing aid charms,” she says. “That’s what makes me really happy.”
Audiology at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital
The pediatric audiologists at Johns Hopkins All Children's in St. Petersburg, Florida, provide expert hearing testing and treatment for children of all ages, including cochlear implant evaluation and hearing aid services.