Meggen Bassom, 38, lives in Manor, Texas, about 12 miles northeast of Austin. She’s married to her soulmate, works as a Network Operations Center Supervisor and loves anything tech-related.
“Everyday love” by Rascal Flatts is her favorite song. “It really fits my husband, Lee and me,” Meggen says. “We’re not exotic; we don’t do anything unusual or crazy, we’re just ordinary people living an ordinary life.
In March 2007, that ordinary life went into a tailspin when, on a flight from London to the United States, Meggen lost her hearing somewhere over the Atlantic. Despite a diagnosis of Progressive Sensory Hearing loss earlier that year, Meggen had no idea that she would lose her hearing completely while inflight.
Meggen didn’t ease gradually into a world of silence. When she departed from Gatwick, in London, she was hearing, and when she landed in Hartford, Connecticut, she was deaf.
Meggen says, “My ears plugged on that plane and they never unplugged. It was so unexpected. While my sister has the same genetic disorder, she became deaf at age 18. Since I was thirty, I thought I was safe.”
“When it first happened,” Meggen explains, “I thought it was the flight and I kept trying to pop my ears. After a week, I went to the doctor and he suggested I see an audiologist. The audiologist said that I needed bi-lateral hearing aids in both ears. So, as a 30th birthday present to myself, I bought a pair. They were very expensive…over $4,000 each.”
For seven years the hearing aids worked well enough, but in 2014 Meggen’s hearing got worse. She could not hear at work, and her job required a lot of time on the phone. Meggen’s doctor said she needed a cochlear implant on the left side.
Things didn’t go as Meggen had hoped. “On March 3, 2014 I had the cochlear implant surgery and lost all the hearing in my left ear. I only have about 15% hearing in my right ear. I got very depressed at this time.”
The first time Meggen turned on her cochlear implant was one of the lowest points in her life. Meggen says, “I could hear speech, but it was so different and robotic that I couldn’t understand what was being said. I thought it was always going to be like that. I thought I would never enjoy music or be able to have a conversation again.”
Meggen was terrified of losing her job, not being able to support herself, and being completely dependent on her family. Feelings of despair and helplessness pushed her into a deep depression.
Meggen’s mother found out about Service Dogs, Inc., and they applied for a dog the following month. That October she went to a meeting to see if she was a good candidate for a hearing dog. Just thinking about the possibility of a hearing dog gave her new hope that her life could get back to normal.
Meggen smiles, remembering, “In March of 2015 I learned I would be getting Derby, and that’s when the depression lifted. I started to realize my life wasn’t over. I would still be able to do things by myself, with Derby’s help, and that’s when the implant actually started working for me. I could better understand speech and talk to people again. Knowing Derby was coming and that I would have help and not be a burden to my family made everything better.
Having a cochlear implant and hearing aid help, but not all the time and not enough. As Meggen describes, “I can only hear an alarm clock or smoke detector when I’m wearing my cochlear implant and a hearing aid. But, even with them in, I can’t hear the phone, people calling my name, knocking on the door, the microwave, the oven timer. I have no sound location, so even if I do hear a sound I don’t know what it is or where it is coming from.”
Derby, an adorable three-year-old Beagle mix is Meggen’s hearing dog, and then some. He alerts Meggen, by touch, and guides her to sounds like a buzzing alarm clock, the beep of the microwave or the pinging of her cell phone. Derby wasn’t trained as a lifesaver, but to Meggen, that is exactly what he is.
Meggen credits Derby, and Service Dogs Inc., with saving her life. That bears repeating: Saving. Her. Life.
Meggen says, “If I didn’t have Derby I’m not sure if I ever would have gotten over the depression of losing my hearing. Honestly, I’m not sure if I would be alive today if it weren’t for Service Dogs, Inc. and their hearing dog program. Knowing that Derby was coming gave me hope and a reason to live.”
Before Derby, Meggen was afraid to sleep, fearing the darkness and the silence. She only slept for about two hours a night. Other than going to work, Meggen stayed home, always on edge, worried about missing something she needed to hear.
But now, with Derby by her side, Meggen says, “I run errands regardless of the time. I shop by myself. I don’t avoid people. I sleep through the night. I am independent, confident and happy.”
Service Dogs Inc.’s mission is to provide service and hearing dogs, free of charge, as a lifeline to those with mobility challenges or hearing loss. And while they succeed in meeting that goal, reaching the moon, the end result really reaches the stars. Service Dogs, Inc. is in the business, unofficially of course, of saving lives, one person and one dog at a time.
Just ask Meggen. The love that she and Derby share is life changing, lifesaving and one that is really only understood by those who have the miracle of a service or hearing dog in their lives.
The darkness that once threatened to overcome Meggen is gone, banished by a wag, a woof and a gentle nudge from a heroic hearing dog named Derby. Curled up on the sofa, watching old movies with her husband and Derby is Meggen’s favorite place to be. It’s simple. It’s ordinary, and Meggen wouldn’t have it any other way.
~ By Janis Gioia