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Gift supports newborn hearing screening

​​​​​​​​​​Up to 500 babies in northern Wisconsin will receive important hearing screening, thanks to a generous gift from a family in southern Wisconsin.

Mom and baby

The DeAtley Family Foundation, Inc., Mt. Horeb, gave $30,000 to support Marshfield Clinic's Newborn Hearing Screening program. This gift will change for the better the lives of babies born to the rural poor population in northern, western and central Wisconsin.

"This was a very easy decision for me," said Leesa DeAtley Schlimgen, whose family set up the foundation after her father, William, retired and sold his business. Schlimgen herself has about 50 percent hearing loss, which was identified in a school hearing screening.

Deafness or hearing loss is among the most common birth defects in the United States. One of 1,000 infants is born profoundly deaf, and another two or three per 1,000 are born with partial hearing loss.

Almost all newborns in the United States receive an initial hearing screening within the first week of birth. While this test is quick and simple, it can produce false positives or inconclusive results, as well as true positive results in about 20 percent of infants.

These babies are then referred for a more conclusive secondary diagnostic screening. Many of these families must then travel some distance to see an audiologist certified in this type of testing. Travel can be difficult for the rural poor. In northern and western Wisconsin, only three audiologists have certification to perform this kind of testing.

As a result, only about half of the newborns who need secondary diagnostic screenings actually receive them. But children who are profoundly deaf or have a partial hearing loss are at high risk for developmental and educational delays. Many of them will later emerge in schools' special education programs for issues that could have been addressed much earlier, more effectively, and at far less cost.

The DeAtley gift to Marshfield Clinic will add capacity for testing via TeleAudiology technology to remote locations. Audiologists use high-speed Internet connections and telemedicine equipment. They work in cooperation with on-site nursing staff who coordinate all aspects of care, such as attaching testing equipment. Together they determine the nature of the loss, and discuss a treatment/intervention plan with the parents. The Clinic's TeleAudiology program was one of the first of its kind in Wisconsin.

While this technology is already being used by Marshfield Clinic, the grant allowed the Clinic to expand it. Audiologists expect to provide screening to 500 infants of working poor families or those who fall below federal poverty standards.

"I was presented with different options for funding programs, but I knew right away this was where I wanted the money to go," Schlimgen said. "I was blessed that my hearing loss was caught when it was, but not every child is that fortunate."