Free hearing screening leads to life-changing diagnosis

Winneshiek Medical Center (WMC) provides free screenings on a variety of health related conditions, including hearing loss. In June, several people took advantage of a free hearing screening at WMC, and while some were advised to make an appointment with an audiologist, others departed with renewed confidence in their hearing. But for one patient, Brian Lensch, the screening lead to a life-changing diagnosis.

“I noticed a little hearing loss when I turned 40 and I thought ‘I’m not old enough for this,’” says Brian. As time went on, he noticed that hearing loss was affecting his ability to communicate. “I really had to concentrate to understand conversations in a group setting,” says Brian. “So I decided to sign up for the free hearing screening at WMC, I thought it would be good first step.”

The free screening confirmed his hearing loss and he was able to make an appointment later that week with Cynthia See, Au.D., Mayo Clinic Health System audiologist at WMC Decorah Clinic. “We performed a variety of hearing tests and discovered that Brian was able to understand about 56% of the words he was hearing in his left ear,” says Dr. See. “But other testing showed that Brian’s ear wasn’t damaged, no wax buildup, no infection and his eardrum looked fine. He wasn’t experiencing balance issues or pain. It was a unique situation, so I suggested we bring in Dr. Remington for a consult.”

William Remington, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System ear, nose and throat surgeon, at WMC Decorah Clinic. Both doctors joined Brian for further examination. “We needed more information to investigate why Brian’s hearing was diminishing,” says Dr. Remington. “Fortunately, we have MRI services at WMC and we arranged to have him tested early the following week.”

Brian’s MRI results were read the same day by Richard Remark, M.D., Mayo Clinic Health System radiologist at WMC. “I was anxious to learn what was going on,” says Brian. “That evening, Dr. Remington phoned to let me know the MRI showed a 1 inch-sized growth internally behind my left ear and recommended I see a specialist at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.”

Brian was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma (schwannoma), which is a benign tumor that develops on nerves leading from the inner ear to the brain. They tend to grow slowly, so symptoms come on gradually.

“Dr. Remington immediately sent my records and consulted with his colleagues at Mayo Clinic, and by the end of the week I was meeting with a Mayo Clinic ENT specialist (skull base surgeon) and a neurosurgeon. I left Rochester that day with my surgery scheduled.” Brian says his specialists advised him that surgery may take about 9 hours and he’ll lose 100% of his hearing in his left ear. He’ll also need weeks of recovery to heal and practice his balance as he walks.

“I was in denial with my hearing loss and the free screening at WMC ended up changing my life,” says Brian. “I’m impressed in a thousand ways from this experience. There’s a personal touch in how I was included in my treatment and care. I was such a focus for a moment in time – it was evident that I was important and we needed to figure this out, and we did.”

Brian is married to Elly and they have two daughters, Annika (13) and Hanna (5). “I like knowing my family will grow up with this kind of care,” says Brian. “Where we can have a local relationship with outstanding doctors with state-of-the-art diagnostic services, and access to Mayo Clinic when we need it most.”

Rated a top 20 critical access hospital in the U.S., and the second largest critical access hospital in Iowa, Winneshiek Medical Center (WMC) serves northeast Iowa and southeast Minnesota. WMC has is a lifelong community partner improving the health and well-being of those it serves through patient-centered collaboration with Mayo Clinic Health System.  The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.

To learn more about audiology or other health care services at Winneshiek Medical Center, call 563-382-2911.

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