Celia Maloy couldn’t contain her emotions as she began hearing the instructions from audiologist Dr. Rodney Brannan.

Brannan taught her how to change the hearing aid batteries using a magnetic tool and how to change the small filter that catches ear wax. He helped her put the hearing aids in and scratched his finger over them so she could hear they were working. That’s when she nearly lost it.

“I was a hairdresser for 48 years – dryers running all the time, blow dryers running all the time, music,” Maloy said. “It got to where I noticed I couldn’t hear definite. I heard, but sometimes I couldn’t make out some words.”

Maloy arrived at Physicians Hearing Center in Dothan filled with anticipation earlier this week. She and four other winners in the 2019 hearing aid essay contest held by Physicians Hearing Center and the Dothan Eagle were being fitted for their new hearing aids. The contest has been held for nearly 20 years.

Winners for this year were Frank Carter of Abbeville; Winifred Commander of Geneva; Kathy Duffell of Chipley, Florida; Celia Maloy of Level Plains; and Marlon Norwood of Enterprise. None of the winners had ever had hearing aids prior to the contest.

Frank Carter works as an umpire for both city sports leagues and high schools. He uses a headset when he referees, so he plans to avoid using his new hearing aids during games as hearing aids don’t do well with moisture, including sweat.

Carter’s family has had a history of hearing loss – his sister had hearing aids and even a grandson wears them. Carter has spent years compensating for his hearing loss by sitting toward the front at meetings and trying out different amplifiers.

When he saw a story about the hearing aid contest, he left it for his daughter, Tonja Jones, to see. She wrote an essay on his behalf.

“She did it and she sent if off,” Carter said. “… I feel pretty proud of this.”

Marlon Norwood has to be looking directly at someone talking to him in order to make out what they’re saying. His wife, Dianne, has to repeat things said in church or at gatherings. He can’t hear his grandsons. He’s feels isolated even at home.

“It’s been going on for years, I guess just getting older,” 68-year-old Norwood said. “I’ve got to watch TV wide open. When a crowd is around … I don’t know what they’re talking about.”

At 78, Winifred Commander stays active, visiting nursing homes, playing bridge with friends and going to church. But, as her grandson Aaron Commander wrote in an essay, she struggles now with following conversations and often just smiles and nods. She arrived at her fitting with a notebook and questions for Audiologist Blakely Ellis.

While there’s a history of hearing loss in her family, Winifred Commander said she noticed her hearing loss got worse after her husband died.

“I come from a line of hard-of-hearing folks,” she said. “I play bridge with a group and I got where I couldn’t hear what they said even when we just played around a card table.”

Kathy Duffell lost her vision to retinitis pigmentosa and has been legally blind since 1985, when she was 32 years old. Eight years ago, she almost lost her life before a kidney and liver transplant saved her.

“She’s a fighter,” said Doris Oliver, Duffell’s sister.

She still has some light perception and learned over the years to use her hearing to compensate for her vision loss. She uses a computer with a speech reader, and until her transplant, she worked as a medical transcriptionist.

But when Duffell’s hearing began to go, her family worried about her becoming more and more isolated. Through it all, Duffell said she has tried to stay positive. Duffell received rechargeable hearing aids so that she won’t have to worry with changing batteries.

Oliver describes Duffell as her backup memory and, despite her blindness, as a living GPS able to navigate better than some people with good vision.

“I found over the years that no matter where everybody thinks they are, I must know where they are,” Duffell said. “They may be lost, but I’m not going to be.”

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