“My parents told me that I lit up with excitement when I could hear sound. My parents told me I just smiled,” she said. “Growing up with a hearing loss isn’t always an easy road. There are a lot of bends and turns. School and friends and everything can be a bit more difficult because you have something different to deal with than others.”
In her eighth grade yearbook, Niedermeyer wrote that her career aspiration was to one day be an audiologist. She never imagined entering another career. An uninformed friend had told her that she would be unable to complete the tasks required of an audiologist due to her hearing loss. This brought her to tears.
“I cried when I heard that. It’s the only career I ever saw myself pursuing,” she said, recalling the incident with a laugh. “There are responsibilities as an audiologist that I need to do a little differently because of my hearing loss. I had to do some extra research and seek out ways to do the needed tests. It was just
a little extra work.”
At 14 years old, Niedermeyer began to see Regina Presley, an audiologist at the Greater Baltimore Medical Center. She had hearing aids at this time and Presley informed her that she was a cochlear implant candidate. The operation requires a device to be surgically implanted behind the ear and an electrode array is inserted into the cochlea. Patients work with an audiologist to program the device to optimize hearing.
Niedermeyer resisted getting implants until college, when she found the lecture halls and larger classes at Towson University difficult to manage with just her hearing aids.
As an undergraduate, Niedermeyer received one implant and retained one hearing aid. As a graduate student, she had the second surgery to install the cochlear implant in her other ear.
This spring, Niedermeyer had the opportunity to move from the patient’s side of the table to the professional, working alongside Presley in the GBMC Otolaryngology Center for Excellence as an intern. Niedermeyer worked closely with patients who ranged from children to the elderly, bringing a unique perspective to the practice.
“To be honest, I expected a lot out of Bridget—probably more than I have any other student,” Presley said. “I had known her for so long and knew how special of a talent she was that she would be a great boost to our team. The patients love her and always ask about her every visit since she completed her work here.”
Niedermeyer does not mention to her patients that she has a hearing loss or reveal the cochlear implants that are covered by her straight, blond hair.
However, when a patient is frustrated with a treatment or struggles along their own journey, she offers her perspective as a patient herself, creating a closer mutual bond.
“Having a hearing loss myself has been more of an asset than an obstacle because I know what my patients are going through and I can share my experience. It helps me connect with them in a new way,” Niedermeyer said. “I have no doubt that it’s aided me in all aspects of audiology as I’ve prepared for my career.”
At 28 years old, Bridget Niedermeyer will receive a doctorate in audiology from Towson University. She recently accepted a position with ENT Associates in Towson where she will be able to apply her experience to supporting those with hearing loss.
“It will be nice to get my head out of the books after all of these years and be able to put my experience and learning into practice,” Niedermeyer said with a smile. “Audiology is about always learning, though, and I will learn so much more when I get into the field. I know I'll learn from my patients and from my colleagues as I get out into the profession.”
By Kiel McLaughlin. Photos by Kanji Takeno and DeCarlo Brown.
Video by Ron Santana and Kiel McLaughlin.