Steve Box had a dilemma. For over a dozen years Mr. Box has taught choral and piano music at Shoal River Middle School in Crestview, and has been involved in music in Okaloosa County for over 30 years. One day, out of the blue, one of his students came to him and said she had to leave his class. "And she was a very good student, had tried out for all-state and done all the things that choral students do. So I said 'Wow, what's going on? Did I do something? Is somebody bothering you?' Maybe something going on in the class between the boys and girls? You know, middle school things. And she said 'No, you're killing me with the music.' I said 'You don't like the music we're doing?' She said 'No, I love the music. You're playing way too loud!'"
A few days after that he was in the class room alone, started playing and found he couldn’t hear the music, so he went to turn it up. "And it was (already) turned up to 100 percent. So I thought well something was wrong with the keyboard, it was an electronic keyboard. I had a man come in, he looked at the keyboard and said 'Mr. Box there's nothing wrong with the keyboard.'" A few days later he was watching TV at home when his wife came in the room and asked why the television was so loud. "And I looked at it and it was at 100 percent volume."
So Box’s wife made an appointment for him to see a hearing specialist, where Mr. Box found out he had over a 70 percent hearing loss. Unfortunately, the Boxes also found out that the county’s health insurance did not cover hearing aids, and the cost put them out of reach. It looked like he would have to take early retirement. That’s when Mrs. Box called the county office and spoke with the people in change of health coverage. "And she said 'If we can't get these, he's going to have to retire.' And all he told her was 'Let me do some checking and I'll see what I can do'."
What he did was set up a road trip to Birmingham to see a second hearing specialist who confirmed the diagnosis and recommended hearing aids. That led to another appointment with another local audiologist who put Mr. Box in a set of hearing aids. "When he put me in those hearing aids it was a significant difference in what I had been hearing, and what I could hear now."
Then came the biggest surprise, the county decided to cover the cost of the hearing aids to retain Mr. Box. That was three years and several sets of hearing aids ago. Students in Mr. Box’s class immediately noticed the change, asking him to turn the music louder.
Fast forward to August 2. That’s when Howard Hancock, a Board Certified Hearing Specialist and owner of several Beltone Hearing Aid locations along the Gulf Coast honored Mr. Box as a Beltone Safe and Sound Hero. "When we [at Beltone] started this initiative we were just looking for heroes across the country" said Mercedes Reinhard, a marketing representative from Beltone. "And we use [the word] heroes [to mean] people who work in the service of helping other and that have experienced hearing loss and are now looking for ways to...do something about it. And so we have reached out to people across the country, [anyone] from police officers to teachers to nurses."
And while this program honors heroes, hearing loss is a universal problem. About 20 percent of Americans suffer some form of hearing loss. That’s over 48 million people in all walks of life. But only one in four of them will actually take steps to solve the problem. LuAnn Henson is a hearing aid specialist in the Pensacola office. "Often times [patients] come in and they don't think they have hearing loss, they think it's everybody else that's talking to them. So through the process of testing their hearing, showing them the difficulties they're having hearing speech when people are not looking at them. We're able to help them understand what their needs are, and also how making a change will impact not only them, but their entire family."
Meanwhile, back in Okaloosa County, Steve Box is getting ready for another school year. Like the past three years, he will be wearing hearing aids paid for by the county. "I don't know how they went about that. I don't know whether it was through their insurance , I don't know how it was [done]. [The county's benefits department] just said 'You've been here 30 years, we've got to help out.'"
And as for the Beltone Safe and Sound Heroes program , that’s just beginning. "You deserve to hear the sounds that matter to you" said Beltone's Mercedes Reinhard. "And that's really what inspired this whole thing. And that's why we're going to keep it going. It's so powerful listening to Steve's story, and there's emotion behind it because that's what life is about. Hearing the sounds that you love."
And at least one teacher and a few classes filled with students like the way that sounds.