Upstate Hearing's Ken Wood
● By Carrie Schmeck
Photos: Betsy Erickson
For much of the hearing population, experience with hearing loss amounts to talking full volume to an elderly relative whose bulbous aids seem not to help much.
For Ken Wood, hearing loss is a way of life, the only life he’s known. “Hearing loss disconnects people,” he says, which is why he’s made it his passion to reconnect families and loved ones by giving back what Helen Keller deemed more important than sight. “Seeing is about things,” says Woods, “but hearing is about knowing people.”
It’s this passion that drives his philosophy at Upstate Hearing Instruments. With a main office in Redding and satellite locations in Susanville, Weaverville and Red Bluff, Woods’ office helps more than 2,000 patients recapture the vibrancy of life and connection through sound.
“I love fitting hearing aids,” Wood says, somewhat sheepishly. “Maybe I talk about it too much, but making someone hear again? It’s pretty amazing. Especially when the family is there and my patient hears them in a new way.”
“Hearing loss crosses spectrums,” says Donna Spoon, Upstate’s office manager. “It’s not something that affects only those in certain income or insurance levels, and Ken makes a real commitment to serve the entire population. His desire to help people hear well bubbles to the surface.” In fact, Wood is so intent on his staff understanding and empathizing with the challenges of the hearing impaired that he requires each one to spend at least one whole work day wearing ear plugs. “They find out really quickly how frustrating and isolating it can be,” he says.
His own story gives him a unique ability to understand what patients are trying to say when they aren’t hearing well. Born with a congenital hearing loss, Wood remembers how no one could understand his speech as a small boy except his sister, who also had a hearing loss. “We became very good lip readers,” he says. He got his first hearing aid when he was 8 and he describes the quality as that of a transistor radio. He could hear, but it wasn’t natural and he still missed so much. He remembers skipping social events and school dances in high school because it was difficult to make sense of all the sound. “My natural personality was outgoing but I tended to be introverted,” he says.
Those first hearing aids were basic analog devices with limited adjustments. By the late 1980s, the cumbersome aids gave way to the first digitally programmable hearing devices which added the ability to adjust sound balances rather than simply amplifying them. “Now the flexibility in processing sound is like in a computer—maybe even faster than that. And it keeps getting better and better,” Wood says.
He explains how the digital capabilities of today’s devices match hearing loss better, controlling what sounds people hear. It’s more natural and gives him the opportunity to really dial in how people want to hear. “Fitting is part science and part art,” he says. “What works for me might not work for someone else. Some people like blue, some like green. Some like soft sounds and others like crisp. It’s really personal. There is no cookie cutter.”
In a way, he is a sound engineer. “People get really hung up on what type of hearing aid they should get when what they really need to look for is the professional who knows how to fine-tune the device. Someone with finesse will personalize the sound, not just adjust it from the chart on the box.”
Oddly enough, Wood never considered a career in the hearing instrument industry until in his early 20s, when his own technician suggested it. For several years he traveled throughout the United States repairing devices before realizing what he really loved was the people. He secured a license in hearing aid dispensing and purchased Upstate Hearing Instruments in 1990.
Spoon is pretty sure that was a great idea for those in the North State. “We’re really lucky here in our office,” she says. “We all work together with high levels of work ethic to carry out our mission. We talk all the time about how we can hit a home run with every client, how we can wow ‘em.”
For Wood, it’s all about the crisp crunch of fall leaves, a bird chirping in a tree or the timbre of a loved one’s voice. If he can bring any of those to life, he’s had a good day. •
1640 Tehama Street, Suite B, Redding • (530) 243-7307 or (800) 843-4271 Satellite Offices in Red Bluff, Weaverville and Susanville www. upstatehearing.com