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Partnership combatting hearing loss in kids

Sept. 21, 2007

KALAMAZOO--A first-time grant to Western Michigan University from a foundation based in Detroit will help detect and treat hearing loss in babies and young children.

The grant, for $62,195, is from the Carls Foundation and will be used by WMU's Van Riper Language, Speech and Hearing Clinic to purchase equipment to expand detection of hearing loss and provide "loaner" hearing-aid devices for young children of families in financial need. In addition, a small portion--$3,000--will be used to provide summer scholarships for continued therapy and rehabilitation of infant and child patients.

"The Carls Foundation is very pleased to support the diagnosis and treatment of young children in Kalamazoo through its gift to Western Michigan University," says Elizabeth Stieg, foundation executive director. "Our founders, Bill and Marie Carls, believed very strongly in providing for the well-being of our children. The work being done at the Van Riper clinic is very much in line with the Carls' philanthropic interests."

The clinic, located on the fourth floor of the Kalamazoo Center for Medical Studies at 1000 Oakland Drive, is one of the first clinics of its kind in the nation. The clinic has been serving Michigan residents since 1936 and has been active in the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss in babies and young children for many years.

Dr. Bharti Katbamna, a WMU professor of speech pathology and audiology, engineered the Carls proposal.

"This award is important because it enhances our ability to identify and treat hearing loss at a very young age," Katbamna says. "Field experience during the past decade has shown that intervention before 6 months of age allows children with hearing loss the opportunity to 'catch up' to their peers in speech and language development by age 5. The Carls Foundation gift will enable early diagnosis and, thus, make early intervention possible."

Early detection also can help children from the neonatal intensive care unit, who sometimes present unusual hearing problems. Those children sometimes have the ability to hear, but are unable to process sounds due to problems with auditory nerves and/or the auditory central nervous system and may also benefit substantially from early diagnosis and treatment.

Because these patients require unusual testing and complex hearing and fitting procedures, technology must be upgraded or replaced every few years to fully realize the benefits of the most up-to-date technology and evidence-based research.

The Carls Foundation grant will provide new equipment that will allow audiology graduate students to diagnose hearing loss in infants and young children born in Kalamazoo and buy new loaner hearing-aid devices.

The William and Marie Carls Foundation was established in 1961 to implement the Carls' charitable activities. The name was shortened to the Carls Foundation in 1992. Today, the foundation carries on William Carls' wishes to return benefits to his community and country and express his appreciation for the great opportunities that America afforded the German immigrant, who came to the United States in 1924 at age 21. After finding work at several major companies in the bustling Detroit industrial scene after his arrival here, Carls started Numatics Inc. in his garage in 1945, serving as chairman and chief executive officer until 1990 when, at the age of 87, he sold the company to the corporation's management executives.

Marie Carls, who worked alongside her husband in his business, remained very active in the foundation until her death in 1981. Upon her passing, William Carls took up the philanthropic torch, touching many agencies with his generous acts. In his final years, Carls became closely connected with the work at Children's Hospital of Michigan, setting the stage for the Carls Foundation's longtime support of hearing clinics throughout the state.

"Bill and Marie helped so many people, in their own rather quiet way," Stieg says. "Bill loved America, and was so grateful for the opportunities that he had in this country. He was always strongly motivated to give back."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, (269) 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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