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A teenager meets her 'hearing angels'

Stephanie Montalvo has been legally deaf since birth, but the 15-year-old is now able to hear -- thanks to an organization that helps kids get hearing devices their families would not ordinarily be able to afford. NBC's Chelsea Clinton reports.

By Craig Stanley, NBC News

After enduring countless ear infections and several unsuccessful surgeries attempting to correct hearing deficiencies caused by a cleft palate—Stephanie Montalvo, 15, had all but given up on the ability to hear clearly and focused primarily on making the best of her circumstances.

“To be honest, I never thought I was going to be able to hear in that ear, ever in my life,” she said.


That was until she met Bill Austin, founder and CEO of Starkey Hearing Technologies, a man on a lifelong mission to change the world in a very specific way: by sharing the gift of sound. The two were united, along with 74 additional hearing loss patients, at a recent event at Yankee Stadium.

 

 

 

Bill Austin, Founder and CEO of Starkey Hearing Technologies describes the joy he gets from helping people hear.

Bill, his wife Tani Austin, and a fleet of ‘Hearing Angels’ were on deck at the ballpark to fit the patients with new, state-of-the art hearing aids. The devices—which can cost up to $10,000 dollars each, are powerful, discreet and most importantly, free of charge.

Since 2000, the Starkey Hearing Foundation’s “hearing missions” have touched down in more than 100 countries, and more than 800,000 hearing aids have been distributed globally. Their goal? To distribute at least one million hearing aids by the year 2020.

Stephanie Montalvo told NBCs Chelsea Clinton how her new hearing aids will help her when she plays sports, and her mother Angela Perez says Stephanie "has a whole new world."

Inside the stadium, Bill Austin carefully fit Stephanie with new hearing aids as her parents watched anxiously. A brief hearing test confirmed that, for the first time in eight years, she could hear clearly out of both ears.

“I feel like I’m a newborn baby, being able to hear again,” Stephanie told NBC News Correspondent Chelsea Clinton, shortly after being fitted. “That’s what I feel when I have this hearing aid on.”

Stephanie’s mother Angela Perez, who’s spent years agonizing over her daughter’s degenerative hearing issues, was equally moved.

“I'm so excited. Because I knew this was going to be a great opportunity to help her here,” she said. “But actually hearing […] that she can hear from an ear that she hasn't heard [from] in so long, it was just amazing.”

After the emotional fittings, patients had the opportunity to meet Yankee Manager Joe Girardi and third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

Yankee manager Joe Girardi tells NBC's Chelsea Clinton says he can't imagine not being able to hear.

“For them to come into a place of champions — the number one team — and have the players recognize them, it makes them feel like they’re special, they have value," said Austin. "And when they have value, dignity and self-worth, they start aspiring to the future.”

For Stephanie, she’s begun doing just that— and one day, she plans to teach hearing-impaired children how to play music – just as she’s taught herself.  In addition, with Bill’s help, she took away more than just the ability to hear — she’s also got a new way of looking at things.

She recalls her doctors trying their best to help her hear, even if they thought there was no hope for her.

“You’ve got to try,” she said. “You can't give up on anything.  Only try to find solutions … in life.”

Visit the Starkey Hearing Foundation website to learn more

Correction: an earlier version of this article stated that the Starkey Hearing Foundation plans to issue at least 10 million hearing aids by the year 2020. The correct number is one million.