Doctor one of first in field   

By Greg Miller
star staff

ÊÊ  JOHNSON CITY -- When Dr. Daniel Schumaier entered private practice in 1974 as an audiologist, he was only the second person in the United States to do so.
  Dr. Schumaier estimates that there are now approximately 14,000 audiologists in private practice in the United States.
  Dr. Schumaier decided to become an audiologist after hearing a speech while in college. "My undergraduate degree was in speech pathology," he said. "I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., and went to Southeast Missouri State University and listened to a man give a lecture one day on speech pathology. I decided, 'That's what I want to do.' I got a degree in speech pathology."
  About that time, Dr. Schumaier said, "the Vietnam War was going hot and heavy, so as soon as I graduated from the university I joined the Army." The recruiter told him that the Army didn't have speech pathologists, so he went into the transportation field at Officers Candidate School. "While I was there, they told me they needed speech pathologists," he said.
  "They transferred me down to Ft. Sam Houston in Texas. I worked as a speech pathologist part of the time, but I also worked as an audiologist. They needed people to do hearing testing. They said, 'Can you test hearing?'
  "I said, 'Sure,' I had a little experience in it. I met a fellow there who said, 'When you get out of the Army you need to go to graduate school.' I left and went to Washington University and got my master's degree. From there, I went to Michigan State University and got my Ph.D. So I got into the field just by listening to a talk."
  In addition to being a "very rewarding" field, audiology "has been a field that has changed dramatically," Dr. Schumaier said, referring to audiology equipment in earlier years as "pretty primitive." Now, he says, with electronics things are pretty sophisticated.
  "What makes me pretty grateful is that I've been able to invent some products that are helpful to people in my field," Dr. Schumaier said. "That makes me kind of happy.
  "I went from a small private practice to a fairly large private practice."
  In addition to the Johnson City office, which is located at 106 E. Watauga Ave., the company has offices in Kingsport and Greeneville.
  "We do a lot of different things. We have a branch that does industrial hearing conservation testing, and we cover pretty much the eastern United States. OSHA requires companies that have noise problems to implement hearing conservation programs at work. We have trailers that travel all over, and we have crews that go out and actually do noise surveys, do the employee testing. We look at the data to make sure people's hearing isn't changing. We provide educational programs, write educational booklets.
  "Another branch of the business would be diagnostics, where we do hearing testing on individuals from infants. The technology has changed to the point now where we can test a baby that's two hours old. It's very sophisticated, and we can do it and actually tell frequency by frequency what their levels are.
  "In the old days, 30 years ago, it would take us several years before we were able to estimate whether a baby had normal hearing or not. Now we can do that within two hours of birth."
  Hearing aids have also changed in the last 30 years. Three decades ago, hearing aids were the behind-the-ear type. "I remember when the in-the-ear hearing aids started coming out, I was amazed at how they could make the things smaller," Dr. Schumaier said.
  "Hearing aids, though, have not just changed in size. They've changed in what's inside them, the electronics. Virtually all of our hearing aids now are actually adjusted with a computer. All the hearing aids that we do are digital now. The processing involved in a hearing aid now occurs millions of times a second as it adjusts automatically, depending on where a person is."
  Cochlear implants are available for people with very severe hearing losses. "Now, actually there can be an electrode that's implanted within the inner ear. The person wears a processor and the sounds are picked by the microphone. They go through an amplifier, and they are processed. Electrical impulses are actually sent to different parts of the cochlea, or the inner ear. People can hear, and they hear much better when they've got a severe loss with these cochlear implants in most cases, than they would with a regular hearing aid."
  Dr. Schumaier moved to the Johnson City area in the early 1970s, starting East Tennessee State University's graduate program in audiology. He worked for ETSU for two years before entering private practice locally.