Video: Experiencing the gift of hearing

By Peter Alexander Correspondent
NBC News
updated 4/13/2007 6:10:12 PM ET 2007-04-13T22:10:12

They come to this resort by the dozens from some of the poorest communities in Mexico — children and seniors, trapped in silence on a life-changing journey.

They're all hearing-impaired, and, on this day, every one of them will get a free pair of hearing aids, thanks to Bill Austin, founder of the country's largest hearing aid company.

"It's my art. It's what I'm good at," Austin says.

For more than four decades, this college-dropout-turned-multimillionaire has led missions to 51 countries with his Starkey Hearing Foundation and helped 200,000 poor people hear.

"I particularly like helping these people because they have no other chance," Austin says. "There's no one else helping them; someone needs to."

In most cases, the only thing that separates a poor person from hearing is money. In Mexico, a pair of hearing aids can cost close to $3,000. And, here, the average person makes less than $10,000 a year.

Six-year-old Ana Karina Ventura and her family share a worn-down trailer. Ana has never heard her mom's voice — never spoken a word.

"I think I'm just going to cry the first time I hear her talk," her mom says in Spanish.

The instant she puts on the hearing aids Ana turns and cheers. It's a new world.

"Say Mama!" Austin says to Ana.

"Mama!" Ana exclaims. Her first word.

In just one afternoon, there were at least 100 moments like this.

So, does it ever get old for Austin to see a child hear for the first time? Speak for the first time?

"No," he says. "It gets addictive. You want to do it more and more and more."

One man who has helped thousands, by showing hearing is a road to the heart.

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