By Sondra Barr
McKinney audiologist Liz Brassine has earned a long list of credentials after her name––Au.D., CCC-A, FAAA––but opening up her own audiology practice 10 years ago is among her proudest accomplishments. With a kind, caring, and compassionate manner, Dr. Brassine and her talented team at Hearing Services of McKinney have greatly improved the quality of life for their patients utilizing the latest in hearing innovations.
Technology and real-world experience are integral elements to audiology, two areas that Dr. Brassine is uniquely qualified. With an innate love of math and science, she started working for an audiologist in high school before earning Master of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees in Audiology from Northwestern University. After graduate school, Dr. Brassine went on to work for two private audiology practices before spending 10 years as the national training manager of a leading global hearing aid manufacturer. In 2002, she obtained her Au.D. (Doctor of Audiology) from A. T. Still University.
In the decade Dr. Brassine spent training other hearing care professionals around the country in the fitting and dispensing of digital hearing aid technology, her understanding of the devices grew exponentially and provided her exceptional insight into their increasing capabilities. “I was in the nitty gritty of hearing aids day in and day out,” says Dr. Brassine, whose knowledge of hearing software, technology, and products is quite extensive.
The innovations in today’s hearing aids are astounding, according to Dr. Brassine, who says that wireless technology has paved the way for dramatic advances in hearing healthcare. “With wireless, it further opens up barriers that the hearing impaired have had,” she says. Whereas previously a traditional hearing aid would help a person communicate with people in their direct vicinity, there are now fewer limits to communication.
“We’re connecting wirelessly via cell phone and using Facetime and Skype. Now, with wireless hearing aid technology, we can marry what those technologies can do with our wireless hearing aids,” says Dr. Brassine, who equates the advances to turning a hearing device into a personal Bluetooth system that’s easily adjustable to changing environments.
With over 36 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, and as the third most common health related problem in America, Dr. Brassine opened Hearing Services of McKinney to address this growing problem. To be able to serve an area near and dear to her heart, one where she’s chosen to make her home, is an added benefit. She knew her background both in hearing aid manufacturing and in private practice would make a difference in McKinney––and it has.
When Hearing Services of McKinney’s doors opened in 2006, it was the only audiology practice in McKinney. “In the beginning, it was just myself and Connie (Hetzer), who’s my secretary. She’s been with me the whole 10 years,” says Dr. Brassine. Meanwhile, Cassandra Wilson, Au.D, joined Hearing Services of McKinney five years ago. Dr. Wilson, who received her Doctor of Audiology from Texas Tech University, has a wealth of audiology experience that complements that of Dr. Brassine’s. Together, they offer personal attention, service, and hearing aid knowledge that you can’t get from a chain or big box store.
And, that’s not all. Even small details like what chairs to have in her waiting room are important to Dr. Brassine, who’s been in a lot of practices during her time on the manufacturing side. “I could see things that were successful out there or maybe some things that weren’t successful,” she says. “For instance, I made sure that I had chairs in my waiting room with arms. Seniors have to get up.”
It’s seeing the success of her patients that’s one of the most rewarding things about her practice. “ It’s a fascinating thing to watch them hear or hear better for the first time,” says Dr. Brassine, who’s had patients cry because they were so happy finally being able to hear more fully.
“I have a patient who I was fitting yesterday with this technology that connects directly with her iPhone. Her husband’s in Guatemala for four months learning Spanish and now she can Skype or Facetime him and hear everything through her hearing aids,” says Dr. Brassine.
Among the many other examples of this technology working for Hearing Services of McKinney’s patients is in the recounting of a younger older adult who recently moved to Collin County. She’d suffered memory loss from a stroke and was finding it difficult to navigate through the area. “She was trying to take her car in to get worked on and she got lost. She happened upon an AT&T store. She has a Made for iPhone Hearing Aid, so she can stream phone calls directly through her hearing aids,” says Dr. Brassine. “The guy at the AT&T store was able to go to her phone, put the address she was trying to find right in her GPS, and she could hear those instructions directly in her hearing aids. It saved her.”
Indeed, as Dr. Brassine points out, the new generation of hearing aids are far more sophisticated and user friendly than ever before. Many run through apps, which offer a patient the ability to adjust the hearing aid to their specific needs. “Users can create and customize their own programs. So, for instance, if they’re in a really noisy restaurant and they’re having challenges hearing, they can modify some of the settings themselves and they can even save that. And with the GPS in the phone, they can even tag that location so that the next time they’re physically at that restaurant (if the phone is also present) it would recognize that and automatically put that program into the hearing aids,” explains Dr. Brassine.
“We’re all social beings. We’re meant for communication. And when there’s hearing loss and communication gets impacted, that has an effect not only on your own self but it starts to have an impact on relationships with others,” explains Dr. Brassine. “In the beginning stages of hearing loss, you may have a family member who’s willing to be your second set of ears. But at some point in time, they’re going to get frustrated and they’re going to want you to address it and deal with it.”
With that in mind, Dr. Brassine says that signs of hearing loss can subtly creep up. If someone feels like they’re missing things in conversations, or if they’re having to ask people to repeat things, or if they find themselves turning the television volume up louder, are all signs. Additionally, if people sound like they’re mumbling or if high-pitched sounds like whistles and doorbells can no longer be heard, these are also indicators of hearing loss, according to Dr. Brassine.
When hearing loss is suspected, it’s best to see an audiologist sooner rather than later. Which is another reason Hearing Services of McKinney has an advantage. “We’re all audiologists. As audiologists, we have more education, we have more experience,” explains Dr. Brassine. There’s an advantage to having a doctorate degree. When someone comes to see us for their hearing care needs, they’re seeing a Doctor of Audiology.