A Celebration Like No Other

by Judy R. Goodman

After quickly pivoting to adopt new technologies at the start of the pandemic, the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic has been recognized as a leader in the field of telepractice. Now, the Clinic facilitates national conversations with professionals to collaborate on emerging best practices.

This year’s KidTalk Celebration honors these achievements and more. The evening will feature dinner, open bar, live and silent auctions, and a Motown performance. The Walker Clinic community is excited to gather together again, as this is the first KidTalk Celebration to be held since the onset of the pandemic

Pediatric Audiologist Gayle Santucci, PhD, will also be honored at this year’s KidTalk Celebration. As the longest practicing pediatric audiologist in the St. Louis region, Santucci has worked as an audiologist for 46 years and with the Walker Clinic for more than 30 years.

A music major in college, Santucci initially envisioned a career in music therapy. She played the bass clarinet since 6th grade, remembering, “It was bigger than I was at the time, but no one else would play it, so everyone at home and school talked me into it.”

During her senior year, Santucci was exposed to the study of communication science and disorders and realized she truly enjoyed audiology. Earning a bachelors’ degree in the field, she pursued a master’s degree in audiology, followed by a PhD in educational psychology. Subsequently, she opened a private audiology practice.

Santucci learned about the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic from a former student, who then recruited her to screen the children’s hearing. Originally located at the Scottish Rite Cathedral, Santucci helped get the Clinic’s “All Ears” program up and running. The Clinic’s soundproof audiology booths were also equipped to do full diagnostic testing. She pushed to introduce diagnostics, and as a result, hundreds of children had audiology evaluations, which proved to be incredibly beneficial to identify children with hearing concerns. Twenty-five years later, Maryville University became the headquarters to the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic, and services were expanded to reach more children.

“If a child’s ears are infected, we advise parents and caregivers to contact a pediatrician or ENT. Some have significant hearing loss and may need hearing aids. We closely follow all of the kids with delayed speech,” explained Santucci. “The relationship between hearing and speaking is symbiotic and essential. Babies hear in utero at seven months gestation and identifying hearing loss at birth is critical. Not hearing the language means you cannot speak the language. Ear infections in childhood are quite common, and a high percentage of kids struggling with speech are actually suffering from ear infections.”

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in fewer in-person sessions. Now, appointments are picking up again, of course with extensive safety procedures and sterilization. Working in the 6’ x 6’ soundproof booth, everyone is careful about using a mask and a shield, in order to continue to identify children with hearing concerns.

Thanks to an agreement with Maryville, Santucci also uses the Clinic’s audiology space for her private practice work in diagnosing and treating auditory processing disorders for both children and adults. Referrals for treatment come from other audiologists, speech pathologists, neurologists and other medical professionals.

Another of Santucci’s interesting specialties since the late 1980s is the prevention of hearing loss for musicians. Big-name musicians, symphony members, local bands and audio engineers come to her for help in regulating sound levels and the creation of custom inner ear monitors.

Santucci continues to enjoy learning new things and trying new therapies. She’s fascinated by the brilliant ideas coming forward today, as professionals try to identify other creative and effective ways to work.

“I am forever grateful and indebted to leadership at the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic for the opportunity to pursue this work,” said Santucci. “I love helping children and adults and hope to inspire and guide current Maryville University students along the way.”

To learn more about the Walker Scottish Rite Clinic, click here. All Clinic services are free and available, regardless of the family’s financial circumstances.

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