- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

DOTHAN, Ala. (AP) - Rules for hearing aids are fairly simple. Don’t step on them. Don’t wear them while swimming or showering. And, don’t let a dog or cat chew on them.

That last rule also goes for toddler grandbabies.

Annie McNair has been without hearing aids for three years, ever since her 2-year-old grandson decided to remove the beeping devices from his grandmother’s ears while she napped.

“He was curious about that sound they were making,” McNair, 55, said. “I went to sleep and when I woke up, they were everywhere in the bed. He had just chewed them up. He didn’t swallow them; he just chewed them to pieces.”

McNair, however, has a brand new set of hearing aids as one of four winners in the 2017 hearing aid contest held by Physicians Hearing Center at ENTcare and the Dothan Eagle. Twenty people were nominated for the contest, which was started 17 years ago.

Along with McNair, winners were Raymond Lawson, Rodney Chambliss, and Brenda Lewis. Cost is the leading factor in why many people delay getting hearing aids or replacing their devices once they’re damaged or no longer work. The cost of devices can range from $2,000 to $7,000 for both ears.

The hearing aids provided to winners come with warranties for repairs and replacements as well as fresh batteries, ear tips, and filters. Each winner also received a dry jar, which is used to absorb moisture out of the devices. Physicians Hearing Center audiologists Julie Ann Rikard and Gracie Herndon also taught winners how to properly insert their hearing aids and basic care for the devices.

Raymond Lawson was nominated by his daughter, Wanda Christiani. Lawson’s hearing loss is severe and even with the hearing aids, he still has trouble recognizing certain words. Prolonged untreated hearing loss can lead to trouble with comprehension.

Lawson, 84, previously had hearing aids but eventually only wore one because he couldn’t hear through the other.

“I hear, but the understanding - that’s my problem,” Lawson said.

At 65, Rodney Chambliss was nominated by his wife, Ruth. Rodney Chambliss has had some level of hearing loss since he was a child. Several years ago, he developed a buzzing in his ears.

Chambliss previously had hearing aids but has been without them for about 15 years.

“I liked them; I could hear the birds sing, but I can’t hear them now,” Rodney Chambliss said.

Brenda Lewis, 62, was told she needed hearing aids about six years ago after a ringing in her ears worsened. She lives on a fixed income and decided to nominate herself after reading about the contest. Plus, her 3-year-old granddaughter told her she needed to get her ears fixed.

This is her first set of hearing aids. Lewis was amazed at the difference the devices made.

“I think I can hear a pin drop,” she said. “It’s like a whole new world. I can hear everything, and before I could hardly hear you talking.”

McNair has also struggled with hearing loss since childhood. She couldn’t afford to replace the hearing aids damaged by her grandson, the loss of her hearing aids has created some frustrating moments for McNair and her family and friends.

At home, the television has to be turned up to the point it’s uncomfortable for others in the house like McNair’s niece, Tyesha McNair, who lives with her aunt and nominated Annie for the contest. Annie quit speaking up as much at her Bible study meetings because she couldn’t hear what was being said. She also had to ask people what scripture the pastor was referring to during Sunday worship services.

“Not being able to hear in church is frustrating,” she said.

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