meaghan thomas hearing aids non-profit

Meteorologist Meaghan Thomas on Going Public with Hearing Loss and Providing Support to Those in Need

This week, host Shari Eberts is joined by broadcast meteorologist Meaghan Thomas. From the WKRN TV studios in Nashville, Meaghan Thomas speaks to nearly three million people everyday. But when the broadcast meteorologist posted recently on social media about overcoming hearing loss through her new hearing aids, her viewers spoke back. Within days, she received dozens of messages from those with hearing loss who share similar challenges in both personal and professional settings. 

Today, Meaghan proudly wears Signia Pure Charge&Go AX hearing aids, which utilize two split processors to “simultaneously enhance nearby sounds while de-emphasizing background noise”. Meaghan says she can now hear what’s necessary in the studio or at home with friends and family without picking up unnecessary sounds.

In this interview, Meaghan talks about her experience as a child with hearing loss, her experience being fitted with hearing aids for the first time, her experience with Signia Pure Charge&Go AX hearing aids, and how she’s giving back to the community through her own nonprofit organization, The Heart of Hearing, to help young professionals get the hearing assistance they need.

Full episode transcript

Shari Eberts 0:09
Welcome to This Week in Hearing. I’m Shari Eberts, author of Hear & Beyond live skillfully with hearing loss, along with Gael Hannan. And I will be your host for this episode. Today we have a terrific guest and one I’m very excited to talk to, Meaghan Thomas. Meaghan Thomas is a broadcast meteorologist with WKRN News 2 in Nashville, Tennessee. One day, she posted a picture of her hearing aids on Instagram and a movement was born. Meaghan is now a passionate advocate for people with hearing loss. She’s an official ambassador of Signia hearing aids and has also created a nonprofit, The Heart of Hearing to raise funding for young professionals who cannot afford hearing aids. And also to help reduce the stigma associated with wearing hearing aids. Meaghan is also the author of the children’s book also called Heart of hearing, an animated and entertaining story that encourages children to wear their hearing aids. And a portion of the proceeds goes directly to her nonprofit. And you can learn more about that at theheartofhearing.org. So thank you, Meaghan, for being here to talk about your hearing loss journey, and to share what you have learned with our community. And so I thought we’d start off with your hearing loss journey. I mean, every person with hearing loss has a story. So if you could please tell me a little bit about your background with hearing loss, how it started and how your journey has gone so far.

Meaghan Thomas 1:40
Well, first of all, thank you so much for having me. And you know, everyone’s hearing journey is different, and mine is unique as well. My hearing loss actually went very unnoticed for a very long time, which is surprising because my dad is hard of hearing and has worn hearing aids for 30-40 years of his life. And the interesting thing is, is when I was in middle school, that’s why I think I really started noticing that I rely on reading lips, a couple incidents that were just, you know, speak out to me or, you know, come to mind. I was asleep over and as soon as the lights would go out, I’d be the first one to go to sleep because I no longer could quote unquote, hear anybody. And I couldn’t see them anymore, because I could no longer read their lips. And then in high school, we were in physics class, and there was a frequency board. And my physics teacher was like, who can who can hear this? Who can hear this. And I just sitting there like, I don’t hear anything. And so he called me up to the front of class. And he said, Put your head to this machine. And I’m going to play all these frequencies and, you know, see if you can hear them or not. And it wasn’t until towards the very end, the lower frequencies was like, oh, yeah, now I can hear it. And he said, you can’t hear any sort of high pitched noises. And I said, again, not surprising, my dad is hard of hearing, you know, hearing loss friends and my family. You know, I haven’t thought anything really of it. And it wasn’t until I got to college, where you get in this big auditorium, you can no longer see the professor’s lips clearly. And the sound gets so lost in those rooms. Even even now, like you can walk into a big room. And sometimes the sound just gets so lost if you’re not actually focusing on something. And so I just kind of scooted by. I honestly think that’s why I didn’t do well in a couple classes because one of the professor’s didn’t believe in notes or visual notes. She only wanted to talk. And so I was missing everything she was saying didn’t matter if I was sitting in the front or not. I would miss if I look down, I can no longer read her lips to write my notes. And so you know, that was a struggle. And I feel like I had no idea that there were note takers. That wasn’t something that was brought to my attention at all in school. And I think that probably would have absolutely helped my college career. And same thing in grad school. Finally, I spoke up in grad school and told my teachers like Hey, I just I don’t hear very well. And I would really love it if you would let me record the classes. So I can go back and listen to it on my own and put my earphones in and listen to it closer and Turn it up loud. And they have no problem with that I was super easy to do. And then fast forward to my first job. We were getting our ear molds made for the news. And that’s what you listen to the director, the producer, they count you down count you into the shows. So it’s really necessary and it was actually at an audiologist’s office and they put the goo in your ear as if you were making a hearing aid mold and they made the mold out of your ear and my coworker when they pulled it out I mean, it was like 10-15 minutes before drying. He said, Meaghan, I’ve been trying to talk to you the whole time. And I turned around and I was like, Oh, I told you, I don’t hear very well. And that’s why I said, put it in my right ear because it’s, quote unquote, my better one. And he said,

Uh..Okay, and then the audiologist chimed in and said, Hey, why don’t you come back and get your ears tested? And I said, I don’t have the money for that right now. I was a young 23 year old who was just out of grad school, who was living paycheck to paycheck, and I just couldn’t do it. And he was like, It’s okay. We will take care of it. I just really am interested to see what your hearing is. I said, Okay, so I went, come to find out I have profound hearing loss in my left ear, and severe in my right. And I went and told my parents this, and we kind of connected the dots over the past years, my mom has always talked so loud, she’s my parents even married almost 45 years. And so for those 30-40 years, being with my dad, at the time, she’s always talked loud. So I always heard her. And we had a hearing, we had earphones that we put on to listen to the TV, because my dad was so hard of hearing, it was the only way he could listen to the TV, that and closed captioning. So between closed captioning and the earphones, and my mom talking loud, my home was already, you know, meant for somebody who’s hard of hearing. So everything at home was just kind of run of the mill. And so when I started to become an adult, and was kind of on my own and had my own things, I was bringing it up to my parents, and you know, they couldn’t afford a pair of hearing aids. So because they’ve been paying for my dad’s all these years to mom and dad, they ended up saying, Listen, we can afford one hearing aid. So they suggested my left one, because mine is technically considered nerve damage, and the nerve damage will never get better. But you can stimulate the nerves in your ears. And the way to do that is wearing hearing aids. And they said, as long as you wear your hearing aids consistently, it will help you know, stimulate the nerves in your ears and hopefully won’t go completely deaf.

So I wore the first one on my left ear, and I didn’t like it. It almost sounded at the time so airy. And so it was so different. I had not heard any of these sounds before in my life. I never heard the cicadas or crickets. I didn’t hear the air conditioning turn on. I didn’t hear the squeaky buggies at the grocery store. I didn’t hear the blinker in the car. I thought it was just a light. And so, you know, it was almost overwhelming. Because I the sensory overload was just you know, a lot. So I ended up not wanting to wear it much. So then I switched audiologists and the new audiologist suggested after my hearing test, she was like you really need two it’s not, it’s doing yourself a disservice by just aiding one of your ears with the way you are. And I said, Well, I can’t afford it. Because now I am in my mid 20s. And my parents are not going to help me out. And, you know, I didn’t want to put that financial burden on them either. So she told me about a program vocational rehab program. And it took about a year I went through that in Alabama, and it could have been it couldn’t have been nicer. I mean, it was just absolutely wonderful. And so the day of my fitting to pick my hearing aids up, she explained to me it’s going to be $2,500 for a pair, um, that’s half off where they were going to pay for half of it. And so I’d gone and taken a credit card out, you know, and was just gonna pay for it. It just, you know, I was gonna go into credit card debt for something I needed, not for something I just wanted. And so I show up and I’m ready to, you know, get my hearing aids because these are now Bluetooth ones and I was so excited about them. And the audiologist comes back and she’s like, actually, you know what, we’ve done some we’ve made some phone calls, and we’re just going to take care of all of it. And, and so I immediately started crying. And I was so overwhelmed. I get teary eyed thinking about it now. I was just so overwhelmed with that gift and the financial pressure that I had put on me and now it was taken off. I felt so much lighter, so much less stressed and I now could do my job to you know 100% instead of 50-50 And so I called my dad immediately because he’s the other person in my life, you know, obviously understands the struggle when it comes to losing your hearing. And he gets emotional on the, on the phone and just to be able to share that with him was just an amazing feeling. And then yeah, I wore those for almost four or five years. And fast forward to April of 2021. I was, you know, that the first of the year, I give myself a word. And my word for 2021 was Bold. I’m going to do everything in bold this. And so April rolled around, and, you know, I was anchoring as filling in for my chief meteorologist and I was talking to my friend and I said he would just take a picture with me my hearing aid. So like, there, I had a bunch of new followers on Instagram and, and Facebook, and I’m in a new city. And you know, I was gonna You’re welcome. This is me. Yeah. I’ve been there about six months at that point. And in Nashville here in Nashville. And I’m telling you what I posted that picture and it went viral. The next morning, I woke up to hundreds of messages, maybe like 1000, between Facebook, Instagram, Twitter. I mean, it went crazy. And I, you know, could not be more thankful. I mean, Signia, and they reached out to me, I had several different hearing publications. Good Morning, America, news nation. I mean, it’s just took off and the amount of, you know, gratitude, I felt was just unbelievable. I had absolutely no intention for this to go anywhere. And, you know, I always believe that everything happens for a reason. And

it was the right time. And it was, it was something that I didn’t understand was a big deal. But speaking with the ladies that Good Morning, America, the producer said, there aren’t many people in television who are hard of hearing, and you being a quote unquote, public figure, or putting light on something that kind of gets overshadowed. And I was like, Well, yeah, because I have been hard of hearing my majority of my life and didn’t really like telling anybody, it’s not something that you are like, whoo, look at my ears. But now I am now I am such an advocate. And I want to be able to be that voice for the hard of hearing community because we do get overlooked. If you’re not deaf, or you don’t speak sign language, the hard of hearing community kind of gets lost. Yes, we still can’t hear everything. And we may not be deaf, but we still have, you know, problems listening. And so it’s been, it’s been really cool, to be able to kind of be that advocate and be the face of something that I had no idea that was going to turn into this. And honestly, my nonprofit and my children’s book, I told the ladies at Good Morning America about it. And they said, Just do it, there’s never gonna be a good time, just do it. So I found a publisher, I found an illustrator, I found an attorney to help me with my nonprofit, and I did it. And I could not be more excited with the way things are going. And it’s just such an overwhelming feeling of gratitude, because the messages that I received. Not they said that I helped them. But those messages helped me. I mean, I always felt kind of alone, because I never had met anybody with hearing loss at my age either. And so to be able to see all these people, whether they were younger than me, or some of them are my age, it just felt so, so great. And I can’t wait with my nonprofit to bless somebody else. The way that I felt blessed when I got my first full pair of hearing aids completely paid for.

Shari Eberts 14:01
Well, that must have been incredible, because not many people have that experience. I know a lot of people who have really struggled and scrimped and saved and like you said, went into debt in order to get this device that they need in order to communicate and stay connected. It doesn’t seem doesn’t seem right.

Meaghan Thomas 14:19
I don’t know why they decided to do that. I don’t know. What, you know, Dr. Currie, why she just said yeah this is what we’re going to do. But I’m more than happy to do that for somebody else to pay it forward.

Shari Eberts 14:39
That’s wonderful. Well, you’re, it’s your story is is a little bit similar to mine. Actually. My father had hearing loss as well. And he was very, very stigmatized by it. It sounds like your father wasn’t as stigmatized. Maybe it was just sort of a normal thing. So I grew up and when I first noticed my hearing loss in my mid 20s, I was incredibly stigmatized by it. So I’m curious if you felt that stigma or you know, sort of how did you cope with that as you were becoming more public about your hearing loss?

Meaghan Thomas 15:10
Well, it’s funny, and I say this to my dad all the time, I’m so grateful for him, because he’s been in the corporate world. He’s 72, and just retired last year. I mean, he’s worked his entire life in the corporate world, and it never slowed him down. You know, he didn’t want to join the military back in the day, and I know they wouldn’t let him in. Because he couldn’t hear well. So that kind of bummed him out. But I mean, his life worked out just fine. And for me, I, I say this, again, I had no idea and did not understand why this was such a big deal. Because I did have my dad to look up to, and I did have somebody who kind of paved the way for me. And, and that’s why I just hope I can do that for somebody else. I’ve never felt really a stigma with it. If anything, I didn’t tell anybody about it. I just kind of hit it. And, and dealt with it on my own. Of course, my close friends knew. And they have always known to sit on my right side or tap my shoulder to get my attention. Because I wasn’t afraid to tell them but the general public. I actually, this one time, it was my first couple of weeks at my station in Birmingham, where I first started work. And I was really young. And at the time, I didn’t have hearing aids and the morning anchor I was filling in for the morning meteorologist and the morning anchor, she looks over at me. And she says, you’re really sweet. I really have enjoyed talking to you. And I said, Great. Did you not think that before? And she’s, well, there was we were at this event together. And she said, we were at this event, and I was talking to you, and you never turned around and he walked away. And I said, Oh my gosh, that’s because I I said, I said I’m hard of hearing, and I can’t hear well at all. And I’m so sorry, I didn’t hear you. And she said, Oh my gosh, her whole demeanor change. She was so embarrassed. She said, I’m going to have to go back and tell a lot of people this because I told them that you were just rude. And and I said, Oh my gosh, that is not the case at all, like at all. I I said I did not I did not hear you. And ever since then now she’s one of my like, closest friends. And you know, at that time, she had no idea. And I think that, unfortunately, is how things went through the pandemic. I mean, I read lips still even with my hearing aids. And, you know, I had to be like, Hey, I’m hard of hearing, can you please just look this down for two seconds, I will step away from you. I still rely on that quite heavily. I mean, even though my hearing aids are so wonderful, and they pick up things that I wouldn’t have noticed, I think because I’ve used lip reading as such a crutch for so long. I feel weird not using it or doing it. And so I still rely on it a lot.

Shari Eberts 18:10
So it just comes naturally to you. It’s just kind of how you communicate. So I was hoping you could talk a little bit about your hearing loss and the impact on your career and any advice you might have for other young people who have hearing loss and they’re trying to navigate their careers well,

Meaghan Thomas 18:30
I would say get your ears checked sooner than later. And if you’re just getting into your career field and your hearing is important, you need to protect it. If you work in a loud, you know, environment, make sure to wear earplugs, don’t listen to your earbuds all the way up, I would absolutely go get your audiologist appointment as soon as possible. And if you are getting into the corporate world and chasing this dream that you have chosen, let your hair like your hearing stop you don’t let your ears get the best of you. There are things and ways around it. I mean, closed captioning, hearing aids and yes, those options can be expensive. But there are different programs like my nonprofit and other nonprofits out there that can help you and are willing and and wanting to help you.

Shari Eberts 19:23
That’s wonderful advice. Do you feel like your hearing loss has impacted your career at all? I mean, maybe now positively right? Because you have had this opportunity to not only have your first career but have this other sort of opportunity and advocacy. But until then, you know, did it did it – Is it something you’ve struggled with in your career or not really?

Meaghan Thomas 19:45
It just depends. So my very first part time job as a broadcast meteorologist, we didn’t have the piece in your ear that we can hear other people with. So I was missing a lot of things. And then even when we do wear my IFP if they take the mic off, what feeds back into my ear, because I’m on the other side of the studio, I will not be able to hear them. And I have now become okay with saying, Hey, guys, I didn’t hear that, but I’m gonna go with it. And I think the hardest part is when someone tells a joke, and everyone laughs And you, you’re like, wait, what, what was just, and I know, everybody who’s hard of hearing can absolutely relate to that. The amount of jokes I’ve missed in my life, probably 1000s, because I didn’t hear it, or I didn’t hear the punch line. But it worked. Surprisingly, my coworkers and my bosses have all been very understanding of your very first job in Birmingham. So it’s my first full time job. They’re my news director. When I told him I was hard of hearing, and I, you know, an aunt might like little story. She said, Are you sure that insurance doesn’t covered this, I’m going to call on your behalf? And I was like, good luck, okay. And he came back into my office and said, Meaghan, they told me that this is ‘cosmetic’. And it’s a luxury. And I said, I told you, I am very aware, it’s really sad, that kind of insurance doesn’t take care of any of this. And, and I understand that people are saying, Oh, what’s going to be available are over the counter hearing aids are available. But I think what people are missing is that those are not going to be hearing aids, those are basically just amplifiers. And when you have hearing loss, you know, yes, things are turned up nicely. But my audiologist has taken, you know, my hearing aids and made it to wear it like these Signia hearing aids, they can pick up certain words that I would generally miss or, you know, they can turn up the S’s or the T’s and make it specific for me. And so I think that, you know, hearing aids are important, not just like the amplifier side, but my news director could not believe that insurance did not cover it it. Yeah,

Shari Eberts 22:16
it is hard to believe it’s such an important sense. It’s, there are only five of our senses. And you know, to leave one out like that is kind of crazy, but hopefully in the right direction there. So can you tell me a little bit more about your nonprofit, I know that you are excited to give people sort of that gift of hearing aids and then breaking down the stigma as well. So anything else you could tell me about it?

Meaghan Thomas 22:41
Yeah, so our nonprofit, it became official, the heart of hearing, December of 2021. So we’re still very new. I know, it’s it’s been quite the feat. I never thought, you know, one could do it on their own. And it’s possible. So people have dreams of doing that, I’d suggest just chase them and and figure it out along the way. But I now have a wonderful board about 15 to 20. People who have a passion for this as well, whether they have experienced hearing loss, or they have a family member, or they used to work in cochlear implants, or hearing aids or an audiologist, there are so many different walks of life on my board that are just so amazing. And we all just put our ideas together. And we’ve done several events this year. And we’re doing bigger and better things hopefully next year, but our big event will be October third. And we’ve got a huge golf tournament coming up with great people playing in it and celebrities joining and music afterwards, it’s going to be an amazing event. And at that event, we hope to be able to give away a pair of hearing aids and bless somebody in front of everyone. I think that is the goal. And that would be just It would mean a lot. And I think that you know that person, we would obviously invite them to the tournament and celebrate them as well. And to know that they don’t have to worry about this anymore is going to be just such a blessing. And you know from that nonprofit, my book, The children’s book, the heart of hearing, the it’s called Heart of hearing is the proceeds now go back directly. He said all I wanted to do was you know, make my money back. And so this book is just the money goes directly back to to my nonprofit.

Shari Eberts 24:33
So wonderful. Thank you for doing that for all the people out there with hearing loss including myself, I really appreciate that. And thank you for being just such a beautiful face of it. Right. I mean, people sometimes think that hearing loss is only for senior citizens or there are different sort of stigmas that are associated with it and having someone vibrant and out they’re doing well in their career is always such a wonderful role model for other people, especially children, too, who are sort of coming up. And they might have hearing loss. And maybe they don’t see those role models. So good for you for doing that. That’s really

Meaghan Thomas 25:10
nice. Thank you. No, it’s just a part of life. And I hope that I can encourage young children to really embrace who they are, and accept it. And the moment I think I accepted it, the moment that my whole life changed, all of this just kind of brought it into this beautiful flower. And I cannot wait to see how much bigger we can get right now, we still only service 30 miles outside of Nashville, but I’m ready. And you know, God willing to take this thing to make it bigger and better and, and just be able to bless my goal is to never turn someone away. And I would, I would love to be able to do that one day.

Shari Eberts 25:52
Fabulous. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast and sharing your story. And I think it was such a terrific discussion. I learned a lot. And I think it’s just always so inspiring to see other advocates who are doing such great work. So thank you so much. And I wish you continued success in your journey and with your nonprofit. And if you want to learn more about the heart of hearing, you can visit theheartofhearing.org. So thank you so much, Meaghan.

Meaghan Thomas 26:20
Thank you

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About the Panel

Meaghan Thomas is a broadcast meteorologist for the ABC affiliate, WKRN News 2 in Nashville, Tennessee. She earned her bachelor’s degree in Broadcast News & Geography from the University of Alabama then completed her master’s degree in Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State University.  Along with meteorology, Meaghan’s passions involve bringing awareness to the hard of hearing, Deaf & deaf communities! She proudly wears Signia bilateral hearing aids and wants to encourage others that being different makes you special. She is an official ambassador of Signia hearing aids, and has created a Non-Profit, The Heart of Hearing, Inc. to raise funding for young professionals who cannot afford hearing aids and to help reduce the stigma associated with wearing aids.

In addition, Meaghan is the author of the children’s book, Heart of Hearing. Heart of Hearing is an animated & entertaining story for children that encourages them to wear their aids. It highlights aspects of the world around us that would be missed if one chooses not to wear them and helps hearing children understand why one wears aids. A portion of the proceeds goes directly to the non-profit, The Heart of Hearing, Inc. created by the author, Meaghan Thomas. To find out more information visit www.theheartofhearing.org.

 

Shari Eberts is a passionate hearing health advocate and internationally recognized author and speaker on hearing loss issues. She is the founder of Living with Hearing Loss, a popular blog and online community for people with hearing loss, and an executive producer of We Hear You, an award-winning documentary about the hearing loss experience. Her book, Hear & Beyond: Live Skillfully with Hearing Loss, (co-authored with Gael Hannan) is the ultimate survival guide to living well with hearing loss. Shari has an adult-onset genetic hearing loss and hopes that by sharing her story, she will help others to live more peacefully with their own hearing issues. 


About HHTM

HHTM's mission is to bridge the knowledge gaps in treating hearing loss by providing timely information and lively insights to anyone who cares about hearing loss. Our contributors and readers are drawn from many sectors of the hearing field, including practitioners, researchers, manufacturers, educators, and, importantly, consumers with hearing loss and those who love them.

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