Seen & Heard: Cindy R. Jagger

10 01 2017

Cindy Jagger is our Seen & Heard profile in the January/February 2017 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I met and photographed Cindy at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. Cindy is a member of the HLAA Diablo Valley Chapter in Walnut Creek, CA.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. Fees outside the U.S. are slightly higher. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.



Suisun City, CA / Born January 16, 1948 in Washington, D.C.

DO YOU BELONG TO A CHAPTER? Yes, the HLAA Diablo Valley Chapter in Walnut Creek, California. HLAA is a passion of mine and I enjoy helping other people with hearing loss. I’ve been a chapter leader for the past 29 years and I have held many positions, including secretary, vice president, and president of the Diablo Valley Chapter. I also started a chapter in Solano County and served as the northern California state chapter coordinator for 11 years.

HOW DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT HLAA? I got a flyer at work to attend a workshop with Sam Trychin, Ph.D., about how to cope with hearing loss. It was at the workshop I found out about HLAA. I joined in 1987, when it was called SHHH.

WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT HLAA CONVENTIONS? I like meeting people from all walks of life and remembering that people are not alone with their hearing loss.

MY HEARING LOSS… was discovered when I was three years old. I am not sure what caused it but the theory is that it was from a high fever I developed when I was six months old. I started wearing hearing aids when I was six and wore them for 43 years. I got my first cochlear implant (CI) in 1999 and second in 2008. My CIs are the most miraculous gift I have received to enhance my life!

FUNNY HEARING LOSS MOMENT…  After receiving my first cochlear implant, I was in a small meeting room alone and kept hearing “tick-tick-tick.” My first thought was that maybe there is a bomb under the table. When someone who was hearing arrived in the room, I asked what that “tick-tick-tick” sound was. “Oh, that is the clock on the wall,” said my friend.

MY FAVORITE LAZY DAY IS… reading a book on a rainy day. I also enjoy researching genealogy and doing crafts.

MY BEST ROAD TRIP EVER WAS… to Arizona in our new car and seeing three days of major league baseball spring training.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE WAS… earning my associates degree and continuing my education at a state college.

PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED THAT I…  am the first CI recipient to climb the bridge at Sydney Harbor in Sydney, Australia.



I HAVE A FEAR OF…  being stuck in a crowded elevator (it has happened twice!)

I COLLECT… angels and bears.

EVER MEET ANYONE FAMOUS?  Red Skelton, Nelson Rockefeller, Heather Whitestone


I LOVE THE SOUND OF…  ocean waves, rain drops, and music.

YOU JUST WON A $10 MILLION LOTTERY. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? I give a gift to HLAA, pay bills, invest, remodel my house, and then travel the world.

FIVE PLACES I HAVE LIVED…  California, Japan, Maryland, Virginia, and Rhode Island

FIVE JOBS I HAVE HAD…  Third party collections (medical insurance for the Department of Defense), medical claims adjuster at an insurance company, travel voucher clerk, human resources clerk for a major contractor and engineering firm, and dance school teacher

I AM…  easygoing, loving, and positive.

MY FRIENDS WOULD SAY I AM…  fun, brave, and creative.

KINDEST THING ANYONE HAS DONE FOR ME… My husband, Jim, was so caring and loving during my cancer journey.

I WANT TO BE REMEMBERED… as an intellectual and loving person who had a thirst for knowledge and enjoyed life.

I love articles regarding new studies and new technologies regarding hearing loss in Hearing Loss Magazine.

Seen & Heard: Mike Gannon

6 09 2016

Mike Gannon is our other Seen & Heard profile in the September/October 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). I met and photographed him at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. Mike is an inspirational speaker, motivational trainer, success coach and CEO of Fit for Success in Northern Virginia. His book, If These Ears Could Sing! The Living Law of Attraction in Action, is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and iTunes.

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. Fees outside the U.S. are slightly higher. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

S&H Mike Gannon

MIKE GANNON / Reston, Virginia / Born October 9 in Livonia, Michigan

MY HEARING LOSS… I was born profoundly deaf in both ears and wore very crude hearing aids (in the 1960s as a child). I never learned to sign, but learned to speak and read lips to communicate.

FUNNY HEARING LOSS MOMENT…  At the first birthday party I attended at age five, I observed all the kids moving their lips at the same time and I knew you were not supposed to speak when others were talking. It seemed like they were all saying the same thing. In actuality, they were singing “Happy Birthday.”

FAVORITE CHILDHOOD MEMORY…  Being the only deaf child in the school I attended,
I performed in the school choir with no one in the audience guessing I lip synced.

THE BEST GIFT I EVER GOT… my cochlear implants at age 40

first edition of Muscle and Fitness.

BEST ROAD TRIP EVER WAS… my trip to the Grand Canyon, where I heard the echo
of my own voice for the very first time

I LOSE ALL TRACK OF TIME WHEN I’M… coaching my clients.

MY LIFE IN CHAPTERS… A Prelude to Sound, If These Ears Could Sing, and Song Without
End (which happen to be actual chapters in my book, If These Ears Could Sing).

PETS? I have 19-year-old cat who believes I am her designated servant, which of course I am.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE WAS… to understand at age nine that my little brother who died from complications during heart surgery was never coming back.

I LOVE THE SOUNDS OF… nature—especially hearing geese flying over the lake at dusk.

FIVE PLACES I’VE LIVED… Michigan, Connecticut, Virginia, Washington, D.C. and in my imagination

I HAVE A WEAKNESS FOR… a dash of Bailey’s Irish Cream and Kahlua in my morning coffee—to honor my heritage, of course.

MUSICALLY INCLINED? I play the drums, keyboard and create music on the computer.

FIVE JOBS I’VE HAD… author, personal trainer/nutritionist, hypnotherapist, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) Practitioner, success and life coach

GET ANYTHING GOOD IN THE MAIL LATELY? Notice of my last mortgage payment

FAVORITE PLACE TO BE… on my deck at sunset with a cold beer

HAPPINESS IS… connecting each morning to sound. Thank you, bionic ears!

I SIMPLY CANNOT LIVE WITHOUT… being a relentless questioner.

I MOST DEFINITELY AM NOT… a recluse or an introvert.

I AM… unrelenting, introspective and purposeful.

MY FRIENDS SAY I AM… the energizer bunny!

I REALLY SHOULD STOP… listening to my inner critic.

I REALLY SHOULD START… taking the advice others pay me for.

WORDS I OVERUSE… drop down and give me 20

I HAVE A FEAR OF… losing electricity and being unable to recharge my batteries for my implants.


IF I RULED THE WORLD… there would be no calories.

MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT IS… being able to speak as well as any hearing person.

I was amazed at the innovations that were showcased at HLAA Convention 2016. I stand in awe of the dedicated professionals who continue to give of their time and energy in service to others and making the world of sound richer than ever before.

Seen & Heard: Brenda Schmidt

6 09 2016

Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA) member Brenda Schmidt is our first Seen & Heard profile in the September/October 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine, published bimonthly by HLAA. We’ve been Facebook friends for awhile but I finally got to meet and photograph her at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June!

Join the Hearing Loss Association of America!
Do you have a hearing loss or know someone who does? Consider membership in the Hearing Loss Association of America. Student annual dues are $20, individual annual dues are $35, and family/couple annual dues are $45. Fees outside the U.S. are slightly higher. All memberships include discounts on hearing-related products, convention and special event early bird discounts, AVIS and Alamo car rental, and the award-winning Hearing Loss Magazine. Sign up for membership here.

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

S&H Brenda Schmidt

BRENDA SCHMIDT / Naperville, Illinois / Born January 20 in Columbus, Ohio

I LEARNED ABOUT HLAA… I work in the field of education for individuals with hearing loss.

THE BEST THING ABOUT HLAA CONVENTIONS IS… being around people who are experiencing similar life challenges. We rarely find others in the same situation nearby.

MY HEARING LOSS… I was about four years old when my parents started questioning whether I had a hearing loss. I was diagnosed at the age of seven, which was back in 1970. The first sound I heard with my new hearing aid was my footsteps on the ground. I had so many questions—‘What’s that sound? What’s that sound?’ I still do this today. With each improvement in technology I am hearing sounds for the first time, even at my age. The last new sound I heard was a hummingbird in my garage. I thought, ’Oh that’s why they are called hummingbirds!’ I was amazed!

SAGE ADVICE… do not try to fake your way through situations where you are having a
hard time communicating. Be honest and let people know you need them to speak up, repeat or rephrase. It’s all about having a sense of humor about the situation.

A FUNNY HEARING LOSS MOMENT… I was a cashier at a local drugstore in my town. A lady came to the counter and said something and smiled. I responded with, ‘Yes it is, isn’t it?’ thinking she had said, “It’s a beautiful day outside.” She had a confused expression as she walked out, so I asked a colleague what  happened. The colleague told me she actually said, “You have such beautiful red hair!”

WHAT ACTOR WOULD YOU LIKE TO PLAY YOU IN A MOVIE ABOUT YOUR LIFE? I most identify with Lucille Ball because of her red hair and the predicaments she got herself in. I’m always finding myself in predicaments.

MY BEST VACATION EVER WAS… Cancun and swimming with the dolphins.

SOMEONE REALLY NEEDS TO DESIGN A BETTER… captioning service for cell phones that can be used at any time. I wish there was an app or device that could take spoken language and put it into print, accurately and in real-time.

I RECENTLY LEARNED… how to make infographics. All technology fascinates me.

THE HARDEST THING I’VE EVER DONE… was say goodbye to my father, who passed away last December.

PEOPLE WOULD BE SURPRISED THAT I… am a talented memorizer of names of people and phone numbers.


I COLLECT… dust bunnies.

WHAT WOULD YOU DO OVER? I would probably do my high school career over and try even harder than I did with the hearing loss challenges I faced. I would be more of a self-advocate for my needs.

FIVE PLACES I HAVE LIVED… Ohio, Texas, California, Illinois, and Michigan

FIVE JOBS I HAVE HAD… specialized children’s shoe fitter, drugstore clerk, pharmacy technician, teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, and special education administrator

I AM… positive, cheerful, and optimistic.

MY FRIENDS WOULD SAY I AM… warm, a good listener, and empathetic.

BEST THING SINCE SLICED BREAD IS… my Bluetooth streamer for my hearing aids.


MY THREE FAVORITE POSSESSIONS ARE… my animals, my hearing aids, and my comfy pajamas.

MY FAVORITE QUOTE… I am famous for messing up quotes and making my own. One of them is, ‘You are walking on thin eggs.’

EVER MEET ANYONE FAMOUS? Minnie Pearl, Charlie Daniels, and Lloyd Bridges

I WANT TO BE REMEMBERED… as a kind person who was considerate of others.

MY GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT… is overcoming challenges with hearing loss
and showing the world I can’t be stopped by that barrier.

I love articles in Hearing Loss Magazine about access to communication
for people with hearing loss. I wish there was more info for us!


HLM Cover Feature: Gael Hannan

3 09 2016

Writer, actor, hearing loss advocate and public speaker Gael Hannan is our cover feature for the September/October 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine! I design and photograph for this bimonthly publication of the Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA). Gael is such a lively spirit and wickedly funny. It was so much fun photographing her at HLAA Convention 2016 in Washington, D.C. this past June. (She mentioned she doesn’t live very far from enchanting Butchart Gardens in beautiful Vancouver—one of my favorite places to photograph. She doesn’t know it yet, but I’m campaigning to be her new best friend!)

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

WEB Gael Cover

Hearing Loss Isn’t Funny 

by Gael Hannan

Keep your sense of humor. Experts say this is the trick to living well with hearing loss.

But—what if you don’t have one?

Well then, they say, you can learn to laugh at yourself.

What if you don’t know HOW, or CAN’T, or don’t WANT to? What if hearing loss has amputated your funny bone?

WEB Gael TOCHearing loss just isn’t funny. Quite the opposite; it drains us physically, emotionally and often financially. It’s not easy to guffaw at malfunctioning hearing aids, confused conversations and irritated relationships. Giggles don’t bubble from our lips when we make a comment that makes other people stop talking and give us the “you’ve got two heads” look—which of course means the discussion has moved on to something else while we’re stuck in five minutes ago. (I wish someone would announce a new topic—“And now we shall talk about politics.”)

Even people who are natural rays of smiling sunshine find it challenging to deal with a life-changing hearing loss. How many people, reeling from a 20 decibel drop in hearing, would say, “Gosh, isn’t that just my luck? Say, did you hear the one about the guy who couldn’t hear his wife…”

How was I supposed to laugh when a goofy mutt woke me up to show off his breakfast: my hearing aid, with bits of it still clinging to the doggy-curls of his chin? How to cough up a chuckle at embarrassing mishears such as accepting a date, only to find the man had asked something quite different? Or when I delivered one of my famous non-sequiturs: “Mom, can you help me with an essay?” “That’s great, say hi to him for me.” (Below: Gael and “Hearing Husband” Doug)

WEB Gael HusbandAlmost every hearing loss joke is a variation on one or two basics—which the average person with hearing loss will hear about a thousand times in their lifetime. The first goes something like this: “What day is it?” “Thursday.” “Me too, let’s get a drink.” And I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve asked, “Would you mind speaking up, I have hearing loss,” and the answer shoots back, “Pardon?”

We’re expected to laugh at all this?

Yes. Because it helps. (This is a good time to note that people with hearing loss are very good at laughing in group conversations. We laugh when others laugh and stop laughing when they do. Admittedly, that’s not quite the same thing as a real sense of humor, and our bluffing usually just gets us into more trouble. Just saying that we do know
how to laugh…)

Growing up in a small family—my parents, one sister and me—it was easy to understand dinner conversations because the kitchen table wasn’t big; anyone’s lips were only two dinner plates away. Even so, I would respond goofily to something I thought I heard, which amused everybody but me. We laughed a lot, en famille, because my father said the Lord loves a cheerful idiot and he felt we all qualified.

WEB Gael Hubby SonBut everything is funny, according to Will Rogers, when they happen to someone else. I can see the hearing people (especially the show-off types who claim they can hear a pin drop two counties over) almost implode as they try to suppress a smile or laugh at something we misheard. But later, when we’re out of earshot—which is usually not too far away—they tell these stories about us. Our communication faux pas and verbal boo-boos make us the friendly butt of funny stories: “I told Gael we were worried about our son’s shyness, and she said thank heavens no one in her family has sinus trouble.” Har-de-har-har. (Right: A pea between two pods—Doug, Gael and their son, Joel)

But hey, sometimes I laugh while the Hearing Husband doesn’t. He and I were living in a condo, waiting to move into our first house. He went to the lobby for some long-forgotten reason, and I closed the door after him and went back to watching a movie, which was loud. At some point, I might have vaguely wondered why he wasn’t back, but I was engrossed in the movie. At a momentary break in the noise, the phone rang beside me.

“IT’S ME!”
“Oh hi, honey. Where are you?”
“In the LOBBY using the entrance phone!”
“But what…OMG…did I lock you out?”
“YES…YOU…DID! I’ve been back and forth between the apartment, pounding on the door, and back down here, and calling up for a whole bloody half hour!”

C’mon, don’t you agree this was funny? I mean, it’s not like I locked him outside in a snowstorm in his underpants! The Hearing Husband is also not amused with the consequences when I don’t hear the water running. Our two-year-old somehow flipped on a sink tap without me seeing or hearing it, and the resulting flood knocked out our phone line and electric garage door opener for 24 hours. And we’re just starting to laugh about the recent flood in our camper when I didn’t quite turn the tap all the way off before going to bed. Mopping up at 4:30 in the morning definitely ain’t funny and it didn’t help that the cat had refused to wade to his litterbox and “went” on the sofa.

Parenting with hearing loss can be challenging. I was engaged in an up-the-stairs shouting match with my teenage son; would he please get a move on and pack his darn hockey bag! I felt a tap on the shoulder; he was behind me, hysterical at watching me yell and gesture up the stairs to an empty bedroom, while he’d been answering me from the basement—where he was packing his darn hockey bag. I hate getting caught out like that.

WEB Podium GaelAbove: Gael gave convention-goers some humorous communication
tips at the Opening Session of HLAA Convention 2016 in June.

After a lifetime of hearing loss, this stuff still happens. Even with a commitment to good communication, hearing aids, and soon, a cochlear implant, I still have occasional bad hearing days when I seem to ask for repeats with every breath I take. On these days, I could swear that somebody had just passed a law that all citizens must speak as unclearly as possible with Gael Hannan for 24 hours. On these days, I’m a self-centered, walking pity party. But the next day, I can usually manage a whimpering smile at my day of bad hearing, and a couple of days later, maybe a weak ha-ha. Eventually, the embarrassment and frustration fade to black, leaving the funny bits intact. (Okay, Digby the dog did look hysterical with hundreds of dollars’ worth of hearing aid hanging from his hairy face.)

In most cases, our hearing loss is permanent; we get to keep it—forever and ever, amen—and if we don’t find a way to laugh, all we’ve got left is frustration and tears.
The late comedian Bob Hope once said, “I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.”

WEB Canadian Group

Above: Gael with her fellow Canadian HLAA members before the banquet

It is absolutely possible to hone the hearing loss sense of humor, even if you think you don’t have one. The first step is understanding that you’re not the only one going through this; you share it with millions of people around the world. The next step is to connect with some of these people, either in person or on social media. Through HLAA and other consumer groups, you can share your heartbreaking and hilarious stories that turn out to be universal—only the names, dates and locations are different.

Hearing aid feedback when someone leans in close for a kiss? We’ve been there, done that. Spent a sleepless night in a hotel, staring at the alarm clock and clutching the Shake-Awake for fear of missing your flight? Yup, us too.

Had to figure out if your man really just said—at 5 a.m. when you weren’t quite awake—“Let’s get married” when you didn’t have your hearing aids in? Okay, maybe that only
happened to me (but lucky for him, I’m an ace speechreader).

Allan Klein, author of The Healing Power of Humor, wrote, “You may not be able to change a situation, but with humor you can change your attitude about it.” When hearing loss causes its inevitable daily communication breakdowns—some tiny, some big—we do what we can to get through them.

No, hearing loss isn’t funny—until you find the power to tell the joke on yourself. If you can’t, allow me to quote the famous t-shirt: “If you can’t laugh at yourself, I’ll be
happy to do it for you.”

We can laugh at our hearing loss. Just give us some time.


Gael Hannan’s The Way I Hear It

WEB Gael Book CoverIn The Way I Hear It, Gael Hannan explodes one myth after another in a witty and insightful journey into life with hearing loss—at every age. Part memoir, part survival guide, The Way I Hear It is an insider account of the frustrations of communicating with hearing loss: pillow talk and other relationships, raising a child, in the classroom and on the job, hearing technology and the everyday things we like to do. Gael offers advice on how to bridge the gap between consumer and professional in order to get the best possible hearing health care, as well as tips for effective communication, poetic reflections and humorous, poignant stories from the people she has met in her advocacy work throughout North America. This is a book for people with hearing loss—but also for their families, friends and the professionals who serve them.

The Way I Hear It is available for ordering from FriesenPress and other online retailers in hard or soft cover, or as an e-book. E-book also available from iTunes, Kindle, Kobo, Nook and Google Play.

Check out her website at

HLAA Member Gael Hannan is a writer, actor and public speaker who grew up with a progressive hearing loss that is now severe-to-profound. She is a past director on the national board of the Canadian Hard of Hearing Association and created The Hearing Foundation of Canada’s award-winning Sound Sense hearing awareness program for Canadian elementary students. As a passionate advocate for people with hearing loss, she writes a weekly column for and delivers insightful, entertaining workshops across the continent for people with hearing loss, hearing health professionals, and the general public.

Shilo & Scout

8 07 2016

© Cindy Dyer. All rights reserved.

This is one of my favorite shots from the session. You can tell how much Scout adores Shilo!

WEB lorez Shilo Scout

HLM Cover Feature: Shilo Harris

8 07 2016

SSG Shilo Harris (ret.) is our cover feature for the July/August 2016 issue of Hearing Loss Magazine! I design and photograph for this bimonthly publication of the Hearing Loss Association of American (HLAA). This issue focuses on veterans with hearing loss.

Earlier this year I mentioned to my friend-since-high school, James Williams, that we wanted to do a veteran-focused issue of the magazine and he said he could interview Shilo for us. James treated Shilo when he was at SAMC (formerly BAMC). James has been working as a physician assistant in the United States Army Institute of Surgical Research (USAISR) since 2003. He is currently employed as a Department of Defense civilian employee and is part of the USAISR Burn Center Physician Assistant team. Williams is responsible for the daily care of burn patients, assists with numerous surgical cases and provides long-term care to many wounded warrior burn patients. He is also active in USAISR research projects, Burn Prevention Outreach Department and has collaborated on multiple published projects.

In late April I drove down to Texas to visit my family and do some cover shoots for the magazine. James interviewed Shilo before my photography session with him. It was an honor to meet and photograph Shilo for this issue.

Special thanks to Jamie Buchhorn, Shilo’s business manager, for setting up this opportunity for us. Shilo published his memoir, Man of Steel Will, this past year. Learn more about Shilo on his website at

HLM Cover JulyAugust 2016 web

Shilo Harris: Man of Steel Will

by James Williams

WEB Shilo KidsI first met Sergeant Shilo Harris when he was a patient at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas. Like many of our wounded warriors SGT Harris had sustained life-threatening burn and blast injuries in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack. It has been my honor to witness Shilo’s journey from severe debilitating injuries to a successful writer and inspirational speaker.

Social media has been instrumental in keeping me in touch with many of the patients who I had the privilege to work with. In December 2015, I read a story Shilo posted about his frustration with his hearing loss during a transaction with a car rental agent. I realized that we can all benefit from his observations and daily issues with hearing loss. I recently sat down with Shilo at his home near San Antonio for a candid discussion about coping with hearing loss, his book, and his reasons for becoming an inspirational speaker.

An Unacceptable Handicap
When asked to elaborate about the car rental story, Shilo was quick to say, “It wasn’t just the one time, it is a recurring event. My hearing loss sometimes excludes me from life. If people would speak slightly slower and enunciate better, it could make a huge difference
in my understanding of what is being communicated.

“The story centers around a person intently focused on a computer screen who became angry that I could not understand them. The echoes in the room and the ambient noises all worked against me in trying to comprehend what was being said. I was treated poorly because I couldn’t hear and had to ask someone to repeat themselves.

“This is especially difficult with phone conversations. If I have a business call, I will let the caller know upfront that I have a hearing loss and have a hard time hearing on the phone.
If my public relations representative is with me I will just let her take over the conversation and authorize her to represent me so I don’t miss any key components of the discussion. Understanding a voicemail message can also be extremely difficult due to poor recording, poor enunciation and speaking too quickly.

“What I’ve noticed is that hearing loss is often treated as an unacceptable handicap to many people who hear well. Of all the disabilities I have is my hearing loss that affects me the most. I would like to bring more understanding of how people with hearing loss can feel less discriminated against. If a clerk could just look up from their computer screen to face us, speak slower, clearer, perhaps a little louder, and be patient, it would make such a difference.”

Can you explain how your hearing loss is one of the most significant issues you have to deal with?
Well, with burn injuries the skin loses its ability to regulate body temperature. There is a limit to the amount of time that I can spend in extreme temperatures, especially in the heat.

Unfortunately, I really enjoy summer the most, so it doesn’t always work out for me to be outdoors with my children unless water or water sports are involved. Since I lost my outer ears in the attack, I can only wear in-the-ear hearing aids, and they are not waterproof. The only waterproof hearing aids are the behind-the-ear style, which fit well with natural cartilage and skin, but do not fit well with the prosthetic ears I have.

When it comes to using hearing aids, there are so many different conditions and dynamics that apply. I can’t wear hearing aids at certain times, I can’t do this, I can’t do that. When flying, all I hear is a big roar. In windy conditions all I hear is wind gushing by my hearing aids. It sounds like I’m in a wind tunnel!

Regardless of my injuries, my hearing is always a factor. Even the best equipment and technology doesn’t always help in certain situations. For instance, new voices or conversations that are mumbled can be problematic. Rooms that have an echo or poor
acoustics can still pose challenges. So I, like many others with hearing loss, depend on the context of conversations, facial expressions, lipreading and body language. And those are another reason I have such a hard time on the phone.

You mentioned available technology. What has been your experience with current technology?
When I was first injured and treated at Brooke Army Medical Center, I still had remnants of outer ear cartilage that could be used to support good quality hearing aids, but that cartilage had to be used to reconstruct my nose. The only option I was left with was
in-the-canal hearing aids, and those were just not as good. I knew that the technology was out there for better hearing aids, I just had to find it.

About three years ago I attended a joint military conference where vendors who offered support services to wounded military members were represented. I came across the Siemens booth and began chatting with the exhibitors about their available technology.
I explained to them what I currently had and they said it was pretty much state-of-the-art. I agreed that they were high tech but the hearing aids just didn’t work for my
type of hearing loss. My hearing loss was not only a result of blast trauma but also likely due to ototoxicity from some of the many antibiotics that were needed to treat some of my aggressive infections. Little did I know that this was to be the beginning of a quest for
improving hearing aid technology.

One of the representatives from Siemens, Augustus Hernandez, kept in touch with me. Through mutual collaboration, two years ago I was fitted with improved hearing aids that have been nothing less than life-changing. There are new tones and ranges that I hadn’t heard before. The improvements added new dimensions to sound and voice. The hearing aids have Bluetooth capability, allowing me to receive sound from a remote transmitter. I can also change the volume and programming for different environments with a controller I wear on my shirt.

Another accessory I was given is a television audio interface, but I haven’t used that yet as I still like closed captioning. Closed captioning has been so important to me that I have transformed into a person who can retain information better when I read it than when I hear it. I even attribute part of my children’s high academic success to their exposure to closed captioning.

There have certainly been rewards for your persistence in improving available hearing aid technology. Were there any turning points in your recovery that helped you become such a resilient person?
I really think I was able to survive because I had a tough childhood. My father raised me to be tough, that’s just the way he was, and that’s the way I turned out to be. But if you’re asking about the “a-ha” moments, there have been many.WEB Shilo Family

I have five children. I love my kids, and I’ve had revelations from each one of them which have helped in my recovery in so many ways.

One story that sticks with me is about my daughter when she was just five years old. We had just moved into military housing while I was still recovering from my injuries. I was going to rehabilitation and trying to improve the use of my hands. I was still pretty banged up and just really weak. I found myself throwing my own pity party, as I felt helpless while the rest of my family emptied boxes, moved furniture, and put things away. My daughter noticed my sadness and she brought over a hammer and a nail and told me to go hang something. She gave me “permission” to help by saying, “You should be okay to hang something on the wall.”

So the first thing I did when I was ready to drive the nail was skip the hammer off the head of the nail, hitting my scarred fingers. Now all this happens while I am still on blood thinners. My finger was bleeding like I had cut it off! I saw this mess and I just started to cry. My daughter came over and started to console me, saying, “Oh daddy, it’s okay. It’s not bad. Let me bandage you up.” So off my daughter went to find gauze, tape, and ointments and bandaged my finger while I just kept feeling useless, injured, and sorry
for myself. She did an excellent job.

Then she asked me if I wanted to go outside with her. I knew she was just trying to calm me down. We would often go outside to talk about things, see shapes in the clouds, and talk about heaven. Many times when watching the clouds in the sky she would ask me, “Do you think that is what heaven looks like?” I would always answer, “Well, if there is a heaven, I would want it to look just like that.” So we went outside and we talked, and I felt better. My finger stopped bleeding, the pain went away, and I realized my beautiful daughter was there to help me. I am the adult, but here is my five-year-old daughter trying to help me get over my injury.

I noticed she still looked really worrWEB Shilo Beforeied. I asked her how she felt about daddy being hurt. She tried to look happy but her built-up emotions took over as she started to cry. She said, “I was so scared daddy. I missed you and I love you, but I was so scared. I was all alone when you were sick.” She had been sent to her grandmother’s house at the time.

After she got it all out and stopped crying, I told her, “Baby, daddy is here and daddy is not going anywhere. We are going to make it through this, no matter what.” She then asked me if we could pray and I said, “Yes, why don’t you lead us?” Just five years old and she prayed for nothing but thanks—she thanked God for everything. She thanked God for me and her mother, her grandparents, aunts, uncles, everybody. She asked that the Lord watch over them and take care of them. She never asked for anything for herself. I was thinking, “Wow, she’s five years old and she’s selfless.”

She loves her family, and she hasthis great faith in the Lord and in our family. That is when I really knew we were going to be okay. That was one of those special “a-ha” moments. I think because I knew everything was going to be okay, I decided to share my journey onstage and in the book.

Speaking of your book, Steel Will: My Journey through Hell to Become the Man I Was Meant to Be, was there anything in particular that prompted you to want to share your journey?
Many of the people who knew my story told me they felt I was an inspiration and that I should let others know about it. But it was the news that a young soldier who I was with on my last deployment committed suicide that I knew I had to write the book. I wanted to save at least one life. We have lost so many military members to suicide that it has become an epidemic.

I wrote Steel Will to shed light on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and how scars on
the inside can be just as bad as scars on the outside, and how I am fortunate in that everyone can see my scars. I really mean that. I know it’s both a blessing and a curse. Obviously, I wear scars on the outside, but at the same time when someone sees me they almost immediately realize, “This dude has been there.” The truth is, many of us have scars on the inside. Some of the guys I speak to are suffering quietly and alone, feeling they don’t deserve care or recognition for whatever it is that’s eating at them, simply because they have no outward scars to show for the injury.

Tell me about the day you were injured.
On FWEB Shilo Truckebruary 19, 2007, I got hit by a roadside bomb that was estimated to have around 700 pounds of explosives buried in the road. The explosion tore my truck apart. Three of the four doors and the entire top of the truck were blown off. They thought I was dead so they left me in the truck, but I was able to kick myself out of it.

While I was standing there I was taking it all in—the debris, the smell, and watching everybody panicking and running around. All of a sudden I noticed that everyone just stopped and started staring at me.

I survived the first blast but I never knew there was a second one caused by an antitank ordinance we were carrying that exploded from the heat caused by the first blast. I found out about the second blast while I was doing research for the book.

When the second blast went off, everyone thought for sure I was dead. If the first one didn’t do it, the second one surely did. But there I was, still standing there. Everyone was freaking out while I was trying to bark orders like an NCO (noncommissioned officer). Someone came up to me and said “Hey, you need to lie down.”

About this time I realized I was on fire and I immediately started to take off my body armor, putting out fires on my leg and noticing much of the material that was holding my gear was in flames. I removed my ammo pouches and noticed the material around them was also on fire. Removing them probably kept me from further injury, because my ammo would have started to explode.

So that’s how I got injured. But you know, I lost three soldiers that day and that was probably the hardest part of all this. Getting blown up was the easy part, the recovery was the hard part, but knowing I lost three soldiers is the worst part.

I witnessed your recovery and was always amazed that even in very painful circumstances you never lost your sense of humor. I remember you showing up to the ward with prosthetic ears that were shaped like Mr. Spock’s.WEB Shilo Spock Ears
Well, going to the prosthetics lab is always interesting—especially working with Dr. Joe Villalobos, who created some excellent prosthetic ears. One time I told him I really wanted some Spock ears, and he said, “No, you will never wear them.” He made them for me anyway, and now everyone wants to see my Spock ears. Yes, Dr. Villalobos, I take them with me everywhere and wear them often!

Early on, when I was first recovering, I would see others with far worse injuries than mine—missing legs and arms, with even more burns than I had. I thought, “Hey, this isn’t a contest.” You have to stop thinking that way and realize we all had injuries, some with scars on the outside and some with scars on the inside. But we all survived. We lived and are here to talk about it, so we should all try to make a difference, and that is where I am right now.


Wounded Warrior Shares Ultimate Survival Story in New Book, Steel Will

Staff Sergeant Shilo Harris’ Humvee hit an IED while on patrol in Iraq in February 2007. In that blast he lost his ears, part of his nose, some fingers and more than a third of the skin on his body. He also lost three of his best friends. What followed was an agonizing road to recovery, which began with nearly two months in a medically induced coma. During that time he experienced a version of hell so terrifying, the memories still haunt him today. Harris shares his inspiring story in his forthcoming memoir, Steel Will: My Journey Through Hell to Become the Man I was Meant to Be (September 1, 2014; Baker Books).

“I am a man who has lived through hell. It is hard to share this experience. The carnage. The devastation. The loss. But I will do it. Because I will always know the horrors of war,” writes Harris. “I will tell you what an explosion does to you on the outside. And I will tell you what an explosion does to you on the inside. And I will demonstrate what it means to live fearlessly, with a clear understanding of the Grace that can redeem mayhem.”

With this book I wanted to shed light on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),
and how scars on the inside can
be just as bad as scars on the outside,
and how I am
fortunate in that everyone can see my scars.

Harris recounts his journey toward manhood, beginning with a tumultuous childhood marked by his father’s struggles with PTSD and the affects on his family. Shilo moved into his rowdy teenage and young adult years searching for meaning, full of bravado, making destructive choices. The tragedy of 9/11 prompted him to enlist in the Army and he found success as a Cavalry Scout.

On his second deployment, an IED blast left him severely wounded, killed several of his men and sent him home to a “new normal” full of hospitals, painful surgeries and skin grafts, physical therapies, and medical miracles—Harris was the first to participate in a stem cell trial treatment which successfully grew back tissue on his hand. Navigating his new life provided plenty of challenges outside of his physical battles. “The wounds I kept inside were harder to heal,” he writes, and the realities of PTSD plagued Harris daily. He relied on the patience of his family, friendships with chaplains and a desperate and budding faith in God to overcome.

WEB Shilo BookSteel Will chronicles a journey of pain and suffering, but also strength, persistence, love and resiliency of the human spirit. Harris reflects on his military years and combat deployments with the wisdom of a seasoned leader of men; the book reads like a modern-day “Band of Brothers” and any military enthusiast or history buff will appreciate Harris’ retelling of his time as a soldier. In contrast, the tenderness with which he writes about his family tells a profound story.

Today, Harris shares his story with groups of veterans, wounded warriors and others around the country, and continues to be an inspiration for fellow soldiers. He is currently writing his second book, Steps for Life. For more information, visit

Hearing Loss Magazine covers…who will grace the next issue?

29 06 2016

It has been an honor to photograph every one of these “cover models” for the Hearing Loss Magazine. Every story is different but they all deal with hearing loss and how these people thrive despite the challenges.

WEB HLM Covers to JulyAug2016 FLAT