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81-Year-Old Athlete Wins Medal

Ruth Seeger, 81, won her 300th Senior Games medal at a sports event June 9th in Pittsburgh, winning gold in the long jump in the women's 80-84 age group with a leap of 7 feet, 10-3/4 inches. Sports have always been Seeger's life, despite her mother's long-ago attempts to steer her into more "ladylike" pursuits.

Seeger, who is deaf, started her career as a physical education teacher and coach at the Texas School for the Deaf in Austin. She coached girls volleyball, softball, swimming and her specialty, track and field. She led track teams to eight different World Games for the Deaf and was a four-time USA Deaf Track and Field coach of the year. She retired in 1986 after 36 years at the Texas school, which named the gymnasium in her honor.

Soon after winning her 300th medal, Seeger won her 301st, in shotput. She dedicated it to her husband, Julian, who had recently suffered a heart attack but insisted she compete in the Games. "He's always encouraged me," she said. "He's a wonderful man."

Hearing Aids For Deaf "Inadequate"

About 600,000 Israelis are hard of hearing or deaf, but state subsidies for hearing aids, which have to be replaced every two to four years, is inadequate, according to Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee chairman MK Shaul Yahalom.

A committee session was dedicated to National Hearing Day, which was marked with seminars, hearing checks at 30 locations, phone information lines and a new Web site (http://www.hearing.org.il).

Hearing loss occurs in one to 1.2 babies born per 1,000 each year, according to the Health Ministry, as well as in one in three people over 65.

Representatives of patient groups told the committee that hearing aids cost between NIS 3,000 and NIS 9,900. (Approximately $663 to $2,190 in U.S. dollars.)

With help from the National Insurance Institute and the Social Affairs Ministry, the Health Ministry covers NIS 625 ($138) of the cost of a hearing aid for adults and NIS 3,500 ($774) for children up to age 18.

The health funds cover part of the additional cost of members who hold their supplementary health insurance policies.

Ahiya Kamara, chairman of the voluntary organization Bekol, said that many people with hearing loss are ashamed of their problem. About 10,000 lip read, but unlike people who have to wear glasses, many deaf people are ashamed to wear hearing aids.

In Denmark, 70,000 such devices are sold each year, but in Israel, the number is minimal.

Rahel Zohar of the voluntary organization Micha said that children up to the age of three not suited to cochlear implants get only half of the cost of hearing aids paid for by the government.

She said that many parents who cannot afford the rest of the cost receive digital devices on loan from Micha, which raises money for them via donations, but when none are available, young deaf children have to wait in a queue at the most critical age for development.

Yahalom called on the Health Ministry to do more, and asked the voluntary organizations to provide data on how much money was required to subsidize hearing aids for the most needy sectors in the population.

Corson To Retire

Dr. Harvey J. Corson, Executive Director of American School for the Deaf since 2001, will step aside from day to-day operations of the school effective June 30, 2005. He will continue as Executive Director until his retirement on June 30, 2006. In the year remaining prior to his retirement, Dr. Corson will devote his efforts to the important task of managing the Gallaudet Hall renovation project and maintaining external relationships with ASD's various constituencies, including the State of Connecticut.

During his tenure, Dr. Corson was responsible for leading the school through an important directional change resulting in a comprehensive strategic plan which will continue after his retirement. Among the changes are a stronger educational program, forging strong relations with the State of Connecticut, and putting in place the scheduled major renovation of Gallaudet Hall.

Details on a national search for a new Executive Director will be made available in coming weeks. The Board of Directors of ASD, through its various committees, will take an enhanced role in the operations of the school during the transition period to a new Director.

No Pregnancy, Deafness Link

A long-standing belief that getting pregnant will lead to deafness in women with a hearing defect called otosclerosis is probably wrong, according to report presented at a medical conference in Florida.

Dr. William H. Lippy, an Ohio physician in private practice discovered that the original idea that pregnancy was dangerous for such women did not come from medical research, as most scientists think. Instead, it was a decision made by a high-ranking official in Nazi Germany's eugenics program to remove people with genetic defects from the population.

Lippy made his report at a meeting of the Triological Society, an organization of ear, nose and throat doctors.

The key to disproving the link came from his observations of devout Jewish women in Israel.

The tale is a lesson in how information that "everybody knows to be true" is handed down from one generation of physicians to the next without question, Lippy said. "What I practiced all these years, what many of my colleagues practiced, was wrong."

Dr. Brad Welling of Ohio State University said: "This is good information, better than what we have ever had. In terms of family planning, however, it is not going to make a lot of difference."

Treatment for otosclerosis is now so successful, he said, that most women with the disorder can feel free to have children whether the pregnancy exacerbates hearing loss or not.

However, Dr. Rick A. Friedman of the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles said that his experience made him more skeptical of Lippy's findings.

"Each of us has gotten histories from women in which they noted onset of hearing loss during pregnancy or exacerbation," he said. "I still think there is some association."

But because of advances in treatment, he added, "there is simply no reason anymore to tell a woman not to get pregnant. It is one of the disorders that can be readily fixed by a brief operation under local anesthesia."

Otosclerosis is a problem with the stapes, one of the three bones of the inner ear -- commonly known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup. These bones carry sound vibrations from the eardrum to the inner ear.

In otosclerosis, for reasons that are unknown but that may be primarily genetic, the third bone in the series, the stapes or stirrup, becomes fixed in the inner ear. It is almost like the bone is cemented into place, preventing it from conducting sound efficiently.

The condition affects an estimated 500,000 Americans, two-thirds of them women. It once doomed its victims to a life of deafness, but it can now be improved with hearing aids or, in more severe cases, with a stapedectomy, a brief procedure in which an artificial stapes is implanted in the ear.

Physicians have long believed that pregnancy makes the condition worse. Lippy said that as late as 1950, abortion or sterilization was often offered to women as an alternative to their pregnancy. More recently, physicians have warned women that pregnancy could worsen the condition -- but that treatments are available.

Lippy began to question the common wisdom based on his experiences in Israel, where he teaches and practices several weeks each year.

"Many of the patients I saw were ultra-religious Jewish women who had multiple pregnancies-five, six, eight, 10 children," Lippy said. "We advised them not to have children and argued with the rabbis, but to no avail. Finally, I noticed that the hearing in those with multiple children was no worse than in those with none."

Curious, he examined the records of 94 age-matched women in his own practice, 47 with children and 47 without. Using a variety of technical measures of their hearing, he concluded that the hearing of those who had children was no worse than that of those who did not.

The results could mean that age progression is more important than pregnancy in determining overall hearing loss, Friedman said. Even if pregnancy speeds up the hearing loss, "in the end, they all wind up at the same level."

After his testing, Lippy tried to find the source of the belief. Ultimately, he tracked down a paper written in Germany in 1939. A conference of nine doctors had considered the cases of 79 pregnant women with otosclerosis.

"Only two of them believed that otosclerosis was really made worse by pregnancy," Lippy said. "But a man from the Nazi Party wasn't really interested in whether it was made worse by pregnancy. He made a eugenic decision. The rule was made that if a physician discovered a pregnant woman with otosclerosis, she had to be turned over to a government agency."

Sixty-nine of the women were forced to have abortions, according to the paper, and many of them were sterilized. That decision filtered down through history, with the conclusions remaining, but the source fading.

Lippy's results will have to be confirmed before being widely accepted, said Dr. Thomas J. Balkany of the University of Miami School of Medicine. "But at least now the question is out there," he said.