City of Brookfield — For one Germantown man, decades of frustration caused by multiple bouts of hearing loss appear to be over.
Todd Bushkie was 6 years old when a food allergy caused him to lose his hearing in his right ear. For 17 years, the Horicon, Wisconsin native had half the hearing of those around him.
And then it got worse.
At 23, living in Chicago, having graduated only a year earlier from the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Bushkie began experiencing problems with the hearing in his left ear due to Meniere's Disease.
In the time since those difficulties began, Bushkie has married his wife Heather, moved back to Wisconsin, has three daughters and worked as a mortgage loan officer at MSI.
While much of his life has come together in the last 16 years, one thing that remained lacking was his hearing. In recent months, that box has been checked off as well thanks to Bushkie finding Dr. Jane Sebzda.
Sebzda, an audiologist at Aurora Health Center in Brookfield, has worked with Bushkie and a pair of other patients with severe hearing loss to implement new technology that Bushkie says has changed everything.
"My hearing loss is really difficult for me. There was a stigma for me that I didn't want to be that young who has to wear hearing aids, but eventually I had to," Bushkie said. "I'm in the mortgage business so not being able to communicate with your clients and give them the right information was not good. The hearing aid I had helped somewhat, but I knew it was time to look for something else."
Bushkie's research led him to Sebzda, who has worked in audiology since 1984.
"I've been dispensing hearing aids for over 30 years. I started out with linear amplifiers with little screwdrivers making adjustments going all the way up to 100 percent digital hearing aids that are Bluetooth, connecting to phones," Sebzda said.
For Bushkie, Sebzda has helped him to find a BiCROS Signia Pure Primax hearing aid, which allows him to not only hear clearly and consistently in his left ear, but also to pick up sounds from his right side that he has not been able to detect since the age of six.
"When you have an unaidable ear where a hearing aid is not going to help, we actually just put a pickup microphone on that side and it wirelessly transfers all of the speech and the sounds from the right side of him to his left ear," Sebzda said.
That technology has helped Bushkie to be able to avoid simple nuances that have certainly been nuisances over the years.
"My wife would get frustrated sometimes because when I was driving in my car, I wouldn't be able to hear her at all with her being on my right side. When I would sit at a table, I would have to make sure that I was on the right side of whoever I would be talking to," Bushkie said. "Now, I don't have to worry about that."
In addition to being able to hear clearly for the first time in over 30 years, Sebzda noted that some of the technology associated with the latest in hearing aids can also make people like Bushkie even have advantages in some situations.
"You can reduce background noise. I had a teacher tell me that she was in the back of a room for a staff meeting and there was a fan going and she adjusted the microphones to the front," Sebzda said. "She could not hear the fan. She could hear everything the presenter said and her hearing friends could not understand a majority of the presentation."
The technology in hearing aids like Bushkie's calibrate according to the environment that the wearer is in and the microphones can be controlled and aimed by the user thanks to a Bluetooth link between the aid and the user's phone.
"Now, if I'm driving and I need to be able to hear my kids in the backseat, I can aim the microphones to the backseat and I'll be able to hear them," Bushkie said.
Advancement has also made hearing aids more subtle, which has helped for people like Bushkie who once felt embarrassment for wearing them.
"It helped when my wife talked to me and said, 'It's okay to be different. Just because you're wearing hearing aids doesn't make you any different than someone who wears glasses,'" Bushkie said. "It was an emotional thing for me, being a young guy with a hearing aid, but I had never thought about it that way."
Bushkie first arrived at the Aurora clinic on Bluemound in September. Now, he is heading into the holiday season with whole hearing for the first time since the early 1980s.
“I can hear clearly, I know where it’s coming from. I can hear my clients, I can hear my wife, I can hear my kids,” Bushkie said. “It’s been absolutely life-changing; 100 percent life-changing.”