The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 22, 2012

Local doctor, business leader help kids in China hear again

By Robb Murray
Free Press Staff Writer

MANKATO — About five years ago, Glen Taylor came through on a tour of Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato’s department of audiology.

While there he told people about the life-changing trips he makes to remote parts of the world on behalf of the Starkey Foundation, which donates hearing aids to people in need.

During that audiology department tour, Dr. Susan Pearson, an ear, nose and throat specialist, said to Taylor, “If you ever go to China, let me know!”

Why? Pearson speaks Chinese. And she loved the idea of helping people get hearing aids.

She got a phone call a few months ago that has made a deep impact on her outlook and work. It was Taylor.

“He said, ‘Do you want to go to China?”

Pearson said yes.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

Pearson — along with Taylor and several dozen other volunteers — spent 10 days in a rural part of China with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, an organization that provides hearing aids to those in need.

Starkey volunteers saw between 600 and 800. Pearson says that, as far as how many patients she’s seen, it’s about the busiest she’s ever been.

And to say the work was rewarding for her may be an understatement.

“It’s unbelievable. You get chills when their eyes are watering,” Pearson said. “It’s truly a mountaintop experience.”

Pearson said the days were long, but she had good company. Taylor, in fact, “trained her in” on how volunteers go about fitting recipients with hearing aids. And he was right there with her the entire time she was there.

But Pearson’s expertise was something the locals seized upon. As a physician who specializes in working with ears, she helped local physicians and gave advice as they examined patients.

“Dr. Pearson went over there as a volunteer, but when they found out what her skills were, they had her handling patients that needed medical care,” Taylor said. “The whole group of people had such a respect for her on her willingness to tackle problems way beyond the hearing aid. And what a lovely person.”

Pearson said she dealt with patients of all ages. But it was the children she’ll remember most.

“The kids are the most dramatic,” she said. “They either cry because they’ve never heard before, or they laugh.”

She said she likes her job at Mayo. But sometimes it takes an experience far beyond what is normal to recharge a person’s batteries. She said she loved the uncommon sense of accomplishment she felt doing this work, and “the fact that you know you’re changing their lives.”

Those weren’t the only lives she changed.

Even before she got to China, Pearson’s skills were required in a potentially life and death situation.

On the plane ride over, the pilot’s voice came on the speakers asking, “Is there a doctor or nurse on board?”

She raised her hand and was called into action for a man who, in all likelihood, was having a heart attack.

Pearson examined the man, who was en route to Tokyo, and asked the airplane staff if they had an automatic electronic defibrillator. They did and they hooked it up. Before zapping him, though, she had the man lay on the floor and elevated his feet. This stabilized his heart and negated the need to shock him.

For the rest of the flight, she stayed with the man until they landed in Japan, where paramedics took over.

Pearson said she’s not sure what would have happened to the man, but in theory, it could have been the worst.