In 1948, an electrician and World War II pilot, Ken Dahlberg, invented the first in-ear hearing aid. That product launched the Miracle Ear Hearing Aid company. It became a franchise in the 1980s and now has more than 1,200 stores in the United States.
Based in Mansfield, the local Miracle Ear representative, Joseph Perri, has been with the company since 1967. He is assisted by hearing aid specialist Richard Herman, a retired electrical engineer. Herman said he completed training three years ago and has been with Perri about a year.
For about five years, Perri worked one or two days a week from an office inside a retail store in Tiffin. When the store relocated to Westgate, Perri did not go with it.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Richard Herman examines Joseph Perri’s ear with a video otoscope, which allows patients to see their own ear canals on the screen.
"We had been working out of here (Tiffin) house calls only, because our Sears Appliance Center closed and moved down here," Perri said. "People were starting to follow us. Then, when that closed, we had no place to go."
Perri decided to serve his existing clients in their homes while he looked for another location with more space and better accessibility. Last August, he set up shop at Fabrizio Chiropractic and Rehabilitation at 676 Miami St. Herman contacted Dr. Nick Fabrizio to see if Miracle Ear might be a good fit for the office.
"I just got in the phone book, started making calls. I made a call on Monday, we met on Tuesday and moved in on Thursday," Herman said.
"We have windows we can see out of now and people don't have to go 100 yards to go to a restroom. It's much better for older folks. They can get out of the car and they're in the door," Perri said.
Offices in Sandusky and Mansfield also had been operating inside Sears stores, and both have moved into independent offices. The company hopes to present a more professional image to compete with newer businesses and products entering the market.
"We feel our most important asset is servicing the people, making sure they have confidence in us. They know we're going to be there when we're needed. There's a lot of good hearing instruments on the market, but you have to deal with a person you have confidence in, that you can trust," Perri said. "When you're dealing with senior citizens you've got to have a servant's heart."
Most of Perri's patients are 55 and older, but he will test and fit clients ages 17 and older. Miracle Ear has thousands of long-term clients, and Perri wants to keep serving them, along with new customers. Herman said his oldest client, a Mansfield resident, is 101 years old. Perri and Herman make nursing home and house calls to serve people who cannot come to the office. All their equipment is portable.
"We advertise 'We make house calls.' That's how we started the business back in 1965, when I first knocked on my first door making a house call." Perri said. "We used to fit hearing aids in both ears in 1965, for $750."
The woman who got Perri into the hearing aid business became his wife. They have been married 44 years, and their son now sells hearing instruments from an office in Mount Vernon. When the couple got started, there was no license required in Ohio or anywhere else.
By 1970, a license law went into effect. Perri was grandfathered in, based on his five years of experience. To keep renewing a license, a person must complete a minimum of 12-14 continuing education hours a year. Perri has studied at several schools to learn about new developments. He also is licensed through the International Hearing Aid Society, based in Livonia, Mich.
"The hearing aid business has changed so fast, with the technology of the last 10 years. It's hard to keep up," Perri said.
Miracle Ear gives free hearing tests. If hearing loss is detected, Perri makes a recommendation and leaves the choice up to the client. Perri said he will not refuse anyone who seeks treatment in his office. He will arrange payments the person can manage.
Miracle Ear's manufacturing plant is in Minneapolis, Minn. Perri makes an impression and sends it there for the instruments to be made for the individual's needs. The company has models to fit various lifestyles and price ranges. The top model has five programs built into it, including a setting that targets the voice of whomever is speaking.
Anyone who purchases Miracle Ear instruments can have them serviced at any other franchise in the United States. The products have a three-year warranty against loss or damage. Perri said hearing aids usually last 5 to 10 years. As the population ages, the need for hearing instruments keeps growing.
"The baby boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000 per day," Perri said. "Of the people who have hearing loss, only 20 percent take care of the problem. In the United States, approximately 65 to 70 million people have hearing loss ... less than 20 percent of the people do anything about it."
Many ignore the problem because there is no pain, they don't realize the extent of the loss, or they don't want to admit a weakness or "flaw." They may be able to cover their impairment by reading lips, turning up the television or blaming others for not speaking clearly.
"They give wrong answers. They agree with people no matter what they say, they just ignore it, or they say 'Beg your pardon?' When you get into background noise, it does compound the problem," Perri said. "They're constantly putting the puzzle together. That's where the wrong answers come in."
Although it is best to catch hearing loss when it first becomes evident, Perri said most people lose 50 percent of their hearing before they consider hearing aids. The most common loss is in the high-frequency range, a condition called nerve deafness. High-pitched sounds typically are voiced at the beginnings and ends of words and sentences. Consonant sounds in conversation become increasingly difficult to distinguish.
"We only fit programmable digitals. If a person's hearing gets worse, we can re-test their hearing and re-program the hearing aids," Perri said.
Perri has an open house at the office two or three time a year, but much of his work is done "in the field."
"We never want just to be behind the desk," Perri said. "We work harder because this is all we do."
"I made two house calls yesterday, and they were very appreciative ... It's a blessing to see that you're helping somebody," Herman added.
To contact Miracle Ear in Tiffin, call (419) 455-1618.