Twilight organization provides hearing aids for New Ken native, 84

| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 6:21 p.m.

Pardon me? What did you say? Can you repeat that?

Anyone who suffers from hearing loss can relate to those words. Among U.S. residents age 75 and older, at least 47 percent suffer from some form of hearing loss.

Fanny Fern Hughes, 84, has endured decades of struggling daily with a substantial hearing disability. A lifelong resident of New Kensington, she now resides at Pleasant Ridge personal-care home in West Leechburg. She has never had hearing aids to assist her hearing. Ever. Until now — thanks to a foundation called Twilight Wish.

“They aren't covered by my insurance and cost too much,” Hughes says, relaxing in the lobby at Pleasant Ridge and wearing her day-old hearing aids. “I don't have to pay for them, do I? Hughes asks incredulously.

She is reassured by her niece Sandy Mangini that the devices were free and made possible by the generosity of many.

Hughes touches the hearing aid in her left ear and says, smiling, “This is like heaven now, hearing.”

Hughes recently received a charitable gift of two hearing aids through the Westmoreland Chapter of The Twilight Wish Foundation. The foundation grants wishes to people age 68 and older and who earn less than 200 percent of poverty-level income annually. Nursing-home patients also qualify.

Mangini lives in Lower Burrell and has been caring for her Aunt Fanny for years. “Her husband of 23 years, Jim Hughes, died in 1991. They never had children, and I check in on Fanny and look out for her.”

“She is my right hand,” Hughes says, referring to Mangini.

“As my aunt's health began to decline, I was in touch with the department of aging,” Mangini says. “They told me about The Twilight Wish Foundation, and I nominated Fanny for two new hearing aids. The process took about nine months, and Dr. (Suzanne) Yoder and Twilight Wish volunteer Julie Alakson worked so hard to make her dream a reality.”

“We met Fanny at Dr. Yoder's office (The HearWell Center in Forest Hills) and presented her with a certificate explaining that her wish was granted,” Alakson of Mt. Pleasant says. “She was so thankful, and overwhelmed, and I knew her quality of life would change for the better,” recalls Alakson, who is a four-year volunteer with Twilight Wish.

Audiologist Suzanne Yoder offered her services gratis and, after conducting necessary exams and tests, she fitted Hughes for her new hearing aids Jan. 14.

“I was so excited that morning,” Hughes says.

“She didn't say too much, but her eyes lit up and she had a smile on her face when she started hearing that morning,” Mangini says.

“Fanny has a moderate-to-profound sensory-neural hearing loss, which impacts her ability to hear all soft sounds and nearly all speech sounds,” Yoder says. “The hearing aids are not a cure, but will assist her by returning audibility for sounds she otherwise would not hear.”

The average cost of two new hearing aids is $3,000 to $7,000.

“I expect Fanny will improve her hearing by 75 percent or better,” Yoder says. This is Yoder's first experience working with Twilight Wish. “It's a nice organization, and they were very flexible and easy to communicate with. I hope to do something like this again.”

“The Twilight Wish Foundation, Ms. Alakson and Dr. Yoder were so generous. I am overwhelmed and amazed and appreciate all of the hard work that they did. I was in shock and surprised that after all of these years, the hearing aids were here,” Mangini says.

Hughes could hear well as a child and throughout adolescence but noticed as she grew older there was a problem.

“My left ear was first to give me trouble,” Hughes says. “I was working at Alcoa in New Kensington and my co-worker next to me would say something and I couldn't hear.”

“She had surgery on her ears when she was 30,” Mangini says. “She finally heard sounds such as a cat meowing and silverware tinkling. But she was still hard of hearing.”

Hughes always tried to compensate for her hearing loss.

“She guessed a lot; she would just try and pretend that she heard,” Mangini says.

“I dine with five girls here (at Pleasant Ridge),” Hughes says. “I could never hear what they were saying; I just let on that I heard.”

Now, Fanny can join in on the mealtime conversation with her friends.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways,” Hughes says. “My mother would be very happy looking down from heaven now, very proud.”

Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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