Editor's note: An earlier version of this story was unclear about Tracy Lindstrom's achievement.
Tracy Lindstrom turns her head slightly to the right as she listens. It’s a habit she has picked up that allows her left ear to catch most of the conversation.
Lindstrom is deaf in her right ear and has diminished hearing in her left. But that hasn’t stopped her from achieving her goals.
This December, the 36-year-old mother of three graduated from Wichita State University with her doctorate in nursing practice. She is the first student with a hearing impairment to complete the undergraduate through doctoral programs in the School of Nursing at WSU, according to university officials.
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“My goal has always been to obtain the highest level of education that I can in whatever my area is that I focus my attention on,” Lindstrom said. “So, in this case nursing.”
Lindstrom’s hearing loss was discovered at a fireworks show when she was 4. Her mom noticed that while all the other children clamped their hands over both their ears, Lindstrom covered only her left ear.
A test revealed that Lindstrom was deaf in her right ear, but her hearing in her left ear was normal. During the next couple of years, her hearing in her left ear decreased.
“When my hearing would fluctuate, it would go down, but when it came back up, it wouldn’t always come back up to the baseline it was before,” Lindstrom said.
Starting in elementary school, Lindstrom wore a hearing aid in her left ear and always sat in the front row so she could see the teacher’s lips.
“Your body accommodates when it’s missing a piece, and so my sense of vision and being able to read lips became a way to compensate,” Lindstrom said.
Years later, as she studied for her doctorate at WSU, she still sat in the front row.
“We would have her sit up front so she could read our lips while we spoke and also to the side so she could listen to her classmates and read their lips,” said Pat Dwyer, a nursing instructor at WSU.
Lindstrom also used a wireless FM listening device. The device picks up the teacher’s voice and transmits it to Lindstrom’s hearing aid.
“Kind of like a one-way walkie-talkie,” Lindstrom said.
Lindstrom completed her undergraduate degree in nursing in 2006 at WSU. She was accepted into the doctorate program in 2009, but around that time, she lost her job and her husband changed professions. She decided to put her education on hold until 2012.
Pursing a degree in nursing wasn’t an easy decision. While Lindstrom has always loved science, she worried that her disability would prevent her from having a successful nursing career.
“I did have reservations,” she said. “I had individuals who didn’t see how it could work and how I could successfully work as a nurse with a hearing impairment.”
One difficulty she faced was hearing heartbeats with a stethoscope. Low pitches, like a heartbeat, are difficult for her to hear. She uses a special stethoscope that amplifies the sound.
“I may have to do something a little different than other people have to do because of my hearing challenge,” Lindstrom said. “But there’s more than one way to do the same job.”
When working with clients, Lindstrom lets them know she has a hearing impairment.
“I don’t want them to think I’m not listening to them if I have to ask them to repeat,” she said.
After she receives her license in January, Lindstrom plans to work at Montoya Family Practice in Wichita. Her passion is working with the underserved.
“She’ll make a great nurse practitioner because of her attitude with people,” said Dwyer, Lindstrom’s WSU instructor. “She understands other people’s problems.”
Lindstrom hopes people will be inspired by her journey and not let their disabilities get in the way of achieving success.
“I want people to know that they are so much more capable of doing things than they give themselves credit for,” Lindstrom said.
“If they have a hearing challenge, or any kind of challenge, or any kind of a disability, that disability does not define them.”