Fallbrook Avocado Packer Thankful to Hear Again


There’s a saying that “silence is golden” but try telling that to someone like Fallbrook resident Maria Cruz Mendoza who is losing her hearing at the young age of 64.

Maria and her family noticed a couple of years ago her hearing was beginning to fade, possibly a result of working around loud machinery at the avocado packing plant where she works.

“She was always saying ‘can you repeat that to me’?” her granddaughter Ivette Rojas said.

At first nobody was overly concerned but eventually the family decided to take Maria to an audiologist after she expressed frustration her hearing was getting worse.

Maria told Ivette, “I’m getting scared I won’t be able to hear anything in a few months;” so, the family took her to see Dr. David Illich, Palomar Health’s chief audiologist.

Through testing, he found she has a 50% hearing loss of consonants and 15% hearing loss of vowels. That means she can only hear about half the words spoken to her. Fortunately modern technology can restore a person’s hearing through tiny devices inserted in the ear (hearing aids), but it comes at a cost, something Maria’s family felt ill-prepared to cover, especially since Maria has been out of work due to COVID restrictions.

Maria’s daughter, Rosa Mendoza, says her mother had been saving money for an emergency for years and was willing to spend it all just to hear her family again but Rosa felt really bad her mother’s only financial cushion would be gone. So, the entire family started talking about chipping in to help, which would put a strain on everyone coming into the holiday season.

Learning of their predicament, Dr. Illich’s work associate, Dr. Amanda Levy, suggested the family enter the “Hear for the Holidays” contest sponsored by Dr. Illich’s medical practice and hearing device manufacturer Oticon. The contest has been held every year for almost 20 years and awards a free set of top-of-the-line hearing aids to the winner of an essay writing contest in time for Thanksgiving. Maria, Rosa, Ivette, and Ivette’s sister, Leonor Rojas, all collaborated to write the winning essay. Ivette found out her grandmother won the contest on her birthday.

“She was crying on the phone,” Ivette said of Maria. “She was like ‘I’m so happy, you can’t believe what just happened. I got a call from Dr. Amanda’s office and they told me I won the contest and would be getting the hearing aids.’ We both started crying.”

Dr. Amanda Levy fitted Maria for her new hearing aids just before Thanksgiving. Maria says she is happy that she can now be part of the family conversation and not be left out of the loop and her family says they are happy they don’t have to yell anymore.

Rosa wants everyone to know how grateful she is for the Hear for the Holidays program and giving the gift of communication to those who can’t afford hearing aids. Maria says she is committed to wearing ear protection when she goes back to work to protect the diminished hearing she now has.

Photo caption: Maria Cruz Mendoza received a top-of-the-line set of Oticon hearing devices in time for Thanksgiving dinner.

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