CCHAT Spotlight: Dr. Samantha McKinney

CCHAT Staff Highlight: Samantha McKinney

At the CCHAT Center, having staff members with hearing loss is a point of emphasis. These mentors provide invaluable knowledge in the field and can rely on first-hand experience when communicating to families of children who are deaf and hard of hearing (DHH). 

So when CCHAT audiologist Dr. Katie Isbell took maternity leave in February, the choice for her fill-in was easy.

Dr. Samantha McKinney, a pediatric audiologist at UC Davis Medical Center, has served as CCHAT’s onsite audiologist during Dr. Isbell’s break. McKinney immediately felt comfortable on campus because of her familiarity with some of the students from her work at the hospital.

“CCHAT is a program that is available as an auditory-verbal option for my families with children who are DHH,” Samantha says. “It is often a recommendation I make to families to begin exploring communication options for their child. I got involved (with CCHAT) pretty quickly by attending fundraisers and events.”

The feeling of comfort is reciprocated by students who are seen by Samantha. That may be because she wears hearing-assistive devices, just like they do.

Samantha’s own hearing loss journey began when she was 18 months old. At this time, she was diagnosed with severe sensorineural hearing loss and immediately fitted with hearing aids. Samantha learned both sign and spoken language, and mainstreamed into school with her hearing peers at kindergarten.

Samantha’s personal experience with hearing loss eventually motivated her to enter the field of audiology. This career choice encouraged her to explore the possibility of receiving a cochlear implant.

“The more patients I saw with cochlear implants, the more I began to see and experience their success,” Samantha remembers. “I knew I was working extremely hard to keep up. Clinic was tiring because I was meeting a new person every hour, which meant re-familiarizing myself with their speaking mannerisms. It was exhausting!”

Samantha underwent cochlear implant surgery on her left ear, and she calls the experience “positive” and “life-changing.” Her word understanding jumped from 4 percent to 88 percent, and she credits being bimodal -- wearing a cochlear implant on one ear and hearing aid on the other -- for the success.

“My first impression of the sounds on activation day was that it sounded like a video game with beeps and whistles,” Samantha says. “I wasn't understanding speech right away. I knew over time that it would get better, and it did.”

Samantha jumped at the chance to help out at CCHAT when the opportunity was available. As the on-campus audiologist, Samantha has assisted CCHAT students with audiology booth testing, hearing device troubleshooting and repair, and she has also performed newborn hearing screenings.

Samantha, who knows some CCHAT students from her work at UC Davis, is loving the opportunity to see the children in a school setting. 

“I have the biggest smile watching them thrive in their learning environments. At school, they are much more active and excited -- and loud -- compared to when I see them in the clinic,” she says. “It's never fun to go to the doctor’s office, and a lot of times we're doing work. All of the kids at CCHAT are super friendly and talkative!”

Samantha’s joy for audiology is just one of her passions. She also enjoys trail running and working on her blog, and she has also started a part-time teaching position at California State University, Sacramento. 

Samantha has been an asset to the CCHAT family, joining Dr. Isbell and instructional aide Dominique Smith as staff members who have hearing loss. She relishes her chance to be a role model for children who are DHH.

“I love showing young children that I, too, am wearing a cochlear implant or hearing aid,” Samantha says. “I think it's nice for the parents to see that a DHH person can be successful, with the right resources and ambition!”

Learn more about the entire CCHAT team by visiting our ABOUT page.

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