11-year-old New Auburn girl can now hear the birds sing


An 11-year-old New Auburn girl will no longer have to struggle with hearing loss, thanks to the generosity of Starkey Labs and its founder, Bill Austin.

Keisha Prafke, 11, was one of 200 people who received free hearing aid June 11 from Austin and his company. The hearing aid, without the generosity of Starkey’s, was otherwise out-of-reach for the Prafke family.

According to Prafke’s mother Robin, Keisha’s hearing problems were diagnosed three years ago. At about the age of 8, the school noticed that she would turn her head all of the time to hear. Keisha also admitted that she tried to read lips to get by. Despite hearing problems, Keisha made the B honor roll at Lakeside School in Silver Lake.

Prafke’s mother Robin, who is a single parent, said that her insurance coverage was limited for hearing aids. Robin also has a rare blood disorder. She could not afford expensive hearing aids.

She learned about the Starkey Foundation at school, and made an application this past spring. She had learned about charitable foundations when her older daughter, Missy, was diagnosed with spina bifida. Missy died in 1990 at the age of 12.

According to her mother, Keisha’s hearing aid, supplies and other gifts she received are valued at $8,000. Her hearing aid offers the latest technology.

“I can now hear sounds like I never could before, such as birds chirping,” Keisha said.

The cause of her hearing loss is not known. She is deaf in her right ear, and partial hearing loss in her left ear.

Another difference Keisha has noticed is that it is now easier for her to understand people talking to her on the telephone. “Before I’d asked if the people could speak louder, but now I don’t have any trouble hearing,” she commented.

Keisha received counseling on how to use the hearing aid and how to care for it. Starkey Foundation also gave her a kit to microwave the unit if it ever gets wet. She now wears them at all times, except when she sleeps, swims, or takes a shower.

When Keisha received the hearing aid, she and her mother were also among those who attended the Starkey Laboratories’ Hearing Foundation gala in the RiverCenter in St. Paul. While there, she and her mother visited with Gov. Tim Pawlenty and his wife, Mary. Keisha also met Incredible Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno, members of the Minnesota Vikings, Timberwolves, Minnesota Wild, and the Vikings cheerleaders.

Prafke has not been slowed down by her hearing loss. She plays soccer, basketball, and participates in swimming and cheerleading.

Keisha will need a new hearing aid every couple of years. Presently she will need to go to a checkup twice a year in Eden Prairie to make sure the hearing aid is working properly. All of these are free of charge.

Robin also believes it is important for the foundation is available to help others.

For more information on the program, look on the World Wide Web at sotheworldmayhear.org.