Mama Hu Hears: How One Doctor Is Using Social Media to Support Families with Hearing Loss

Dr. Michelle Hu, 39, is pioneering new ways to support children with hearing loss and their families. In her clinical role as a pediatric audiologist at Rady Children's Hospital in San Diego, and on Instagram as "Mama Hu Hears," Dr. Hu helps families navigate the challenges of childhood hearing loss by providing targeted learning resources and teaching self-empowerment.

Mama Hu On Her Own

Dr. Michelle Hu

Dr. Hu is no stranger to childhood hearing loss. When Dr. Hu was preschooler, her teacher noticed that she would often show little interest in listening activities such as storytime and suggested her parents take her for a hearing check. Sure enough, the test showed a mild hearing loss in both ears, and at the age of three, she was fitted with bilateral hearing aids.

Receiving her profound hearing-loss diagnosis

Michelle was diagnosed with enlarged vestibular aqueduct syndrome (EVAS) or EVA, and Pendred syndrome, both of which are associated with hearing loss.

  • EVA involves the vestibular aqueduct, a tiny, bony canal that extends from the inner ear toward the brain. When this area is enlarged, it's considered an inner-ear malformation, and is commonly associated with sensory hearing loss. While the causes aren't fully understood, a genetic mutation seems to be involved in causing this syndrome.
  • Pendred syndrome is a rare genetic condition that typically involves both hearing loss and an enlarged thyroid gland (or goiter). It occurs in an estimated one-third of people with EVA and hearing loss.

Hearing loss can be sudden and progressive in people who have these conditions. Additionally, head injuries can exacerbate EVA, as can pressure changes (like the kind experienced on an airplane). As a result, every time Dr. Hu bumped her head as a child, she experienced further decreases in her hearing levels.

This happened a few times, and by the age of 10, she had a profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. She recalls how hard she had to work at school, using the analogy of a duck paddling across the pond: "They look calm, cool, and collected, but they're paddling furiously underneath the water."

During her senior year in college, Dr. Hu suffered a sudden drop in hearing. While sitting in a lobby waiting for a hearing test, her mom suggested to Michelle that she might make a good audiologist due to her personal experience of hearing loss and hearing aids.

"And the rest is history," says Dr. Hu, who had been searching for a career helping others in a healthcare setting. She went on to train at Northeast Ohio Audiology Consortium.

Choosing cochlear implants

During the third year of her audiology program, she learned about cochlear implants (CIs) and realized she could be a suitable candidate. She spoke to her parents and discovered CIs had been mentioned as a treatment option to them when she was young. However, they had some concerns about the technology, and since Michelle was succeeding academically at the time, they didn't see the necessity.

At the age of 27, Dr. Hu received her first cochlear implant in her left ear, and three years later, she received her second. With time, CIs revealed a whole new world of sound. "I now have access to super-soft sounds of speech. I can hear a clock ticking. I can be on the phone or Zoom with somebody and not feel so nervous anymore—it's wonderful!" she told HearingTracker.

Michelle Hu Ci

Dr. Hu shows off her sparkly pink cochlear implant.

Dr. Hu's confidence grew, helping her feel more empowered to take on her life. "I've always been an outgoing personality before, but I was a little bit held back by the limitations of my hearing levels," she said.

Becoming an audiologist and advocate

A strong advocate for people with hearing loss, Dr. Hu explains her communication needs to her patients, ensuring they get her attention before speaking and encouraging them to speak clearly. "It's a team effort," she says. Being a confident and successful role model comes with the territory. "A lot of times, parents look at me, and they're like, 'Oh, wow! Here's living proof of what my child could be like later in life — they could have options and opportunities,'" says Dr. Hu.

She also supports children in becoming their own advocates, inspiring them to have fun with different hearing-aid colors or stickers. She encourages parents to give their children responsibility, ownership, and pride in their hearing devices.

Her next incarnation: Social-media influencer

As Dr. Hu's patients grew older and began having children of their own, they started to ask her questions about living with CIs, such as, "How do you wake up at night? How do you hear your child crying? Do you wear your cochlear implant processors when you sleep?" Those conversations were important bonding and knowledge-sharing moments.

In March 2020, Dr. Hu, a military wife, was on maternity leave with her second daughter. At home during the pandemic with her new baby, she found herself missing the connection she had with patients and their families. So she launched an Instagram account, Mama Hu Hears, to chat with and support families of children with hearing loss. In that first year, she received thousands of questions from her Instagram followers—questions that she would typically hear in the clinic.

Dr. Hu shares information, advice, and her story with her followers. A positive attitude is central to her key message: "I've been challenged by my hearing loss. I've been sad and frustrated, and it was an uphill battle for a while. But it can be overcome, and it starts with your mindset. Everybody has some kind of challenge; What you do and how you approach it is what makes the difference."

Supporting the next generation

Dr. Hu was keen to reach more families and support them by sharing her professional and personal knowledge. Through reflection on what her younger self and her mom would have found helpful during her childhood, she created her new e-course, My Child Has Hearing Loss, Now What?

The course walks parents through all aspects of supporting children with hearing loss, from initial diagnosis onward. "I've interviewed many hearing healthcare professionals and even my mom! I answer the questions that parents have but may be afraid to ask. They go from feeling anxious to feeling a little more confident," says Dr. Hu. "They gain insight into what their child may be feeling or experiencing, and it gives them the tools to navigate this journey." Since the course is online, parents around the world can access it on their phones, computer, or in their homes.

As she raises her three young children, Dr. Hu plans to continue her support of those with hearing loss. "I want this program to be available to people of all different backgrounds and populations," she says. "And I'd love to start a non-profit of my own someday and create a school for d/Deaf and Hard of Hearing, where children are fully supported in their education and inclusion."

Mama Hu Hears

Dr. Hu is raising three young children.

As she considers her path from childhood to today, she muses, "Maybe my purpose in life is taking my experiences and paying them forward so that others can benefit and stand upon those foundations that I've paved."

To learn more about Dr. Michelle Hu, check out this interview with our friends over at FuturEar Radio.