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WILDWOOD | Gloria Zappone is familiar with Catholic Charities of Central Florida’s Lazarus Medical Clinic. It was during a wellness visit she mentioned her hearing loss and learned about the audiology clinic. Partially deaf and with only one hearing aid in poor condition, she could only communicate with her son via written word. Zappone’s hope was to get her hearing aid fixed or at least get a new one, although she was unsure of what the clinic could do for free. What transpired is hard for her to describe.

Zappone is a beneficiary of a partnership between Catholic Charities and The Villages Health, director Dr. Al Turri. Dr. Turri is part of Hearing the Call, a non-profit helping those of little means receive auditory help, mostly hearing aids.

Originally Dr. Turri wanted to travel on mission internationally to assist the needy with hearing aids. On a return trip from Johannesburg, South Africa, he had a gut feeling he needed to help neighbors at home. There were plenty of people on his 45-minute commute to work who needed hearing aids. They just couldn’t afford it, but finding those patients proved to be difficult, especially during the COVID pandemic. Enter Ed Ford, parishioner of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Wildwood, and Erin Burley, director of clinics for Catholic Charities.

Ford volunteers at Catholic Charities’ Lazarus Clinic in Wildwood and recruits volunteer doctors. After several tries, he finally reached Dr. Turri. Ford and Burley met with him and were excited.

Upon leaving Dr. Turri’s clinic, Ford turned to Burley and said, “Did you hear what I heard?” “We couldn’t believe it,” he recalled. He was on board.

For Dr. Turri, the partnership with Catholic Charities made sense. They provided a vetted population of people in need and established patient relationships. What became of their partnership is nothing short of extraordinary.

Dr. Turri’s team of volunteer doctors, students from the University of Florida and Catholic Charities staff and volunteers held a two-day clinic helping almost 40 patients and another 40 at a second clinic shortly after. Many patients were helped on the spot.

“The kindness,” said Ford with a pause. “I had to fight the tears.”

Zappone is one of those patients who desperately wanted to hear her son again. Dr. Turri and his team discovered Zappone’s single hearing aid had a bad battery and was quite old. They quickly gave her new aids with the latest technology.

“Hearing again is emotional,” Zappone said. “When people can’t hear you, they don’t understand, and it bothers them. It makes you feel uncomfortable. I was very moved once I could hear.” She called those who cared for her “Christ-like.” “What is important is people’s attitude toward helping, acting like Christ, doing good and loving your neighbor.”

“For some people, the hearing loss is mild. But we had Gloria, for example, who was extremely hard of hearing,” Burley said. “It affects your work, family life. We had one gentleman who had never been able to hear, to the point he couldn’t speak. With his new hearing aids, his daughter was glad he could at least hear music.”

Burley spoke of another gentleman who immediately asked staff to call his daughter after his hearing aids were turned on because he hadn’t heard his daughter’s voice in years. “It’s lifechanging,” Burley said.

Dr. Turri refers to those experiences as “hearing smiles.” For someone who changed his profession to audiology mid education, he said it’s the perfect fit. “I could do that all day, every day. It’s just that cool,” he said.

Being able to serve his community is the fulfillment of the dream he had in 2019. “I love helping people and (Catholic Charities) facilitated a way of doing it locally,” he said.

After 23 years of experience in the field, he shares what he has observed. “Those unable to hear appear like a bump on a log. They’re not very outgoing. They’re not very social. They often seem aloof or distant,” he said. “Then you flip the switch, and they light up; they can hear and it’s just amazingly rewarding to be a part of that. They went from silence to sound in seconds. Then the tears and hugs come. It’s extremely rewarding.”

And where does he see God in the big picture? His response: Where doesn’t he see God?

“If we all tried to live like Christ, the world would be such a better place. That’s what I’m trying to do every day. He guides me. He inspires me,” he said. “And I come up short every day. But my goal is to walk like He did on earth – have love, compassion, and forgiveness towards all. … No one can deny that Christ is the best example of how to live and treat others.”

By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic staff, January 04, 2024