Lions in Florida help a 6-year-old to hear above the din

Photo courtesy of Northwest Florida Daily News.

Skye-Nohea Mizner was barely 3 years old when her mother realized something was wrong.

During swimming class in a noisy pool, Marie-Fleur Mizner said, her daughter wasn't responding correctly to the teacher's instructions. Afterward, she cried and said she didn't want to swim anymore.

Mizner's initial thought was that her daughter had a hearing problem, but a hearing test found no issues. That set off a frustrating search for answers, during which Mizner would hear her daughter had attention deficit disorder, characterized by a distractability that can adversely affect personal relationships. It was a suggestion Mizner rejected outright.

"She gets along with everyone," Mizner says on a recent afternoon outdoors as her daughter played nearby.

Running and laughing with her younger brother Elio, Skye-Nohea now seems to be a typical 6-year-old girl. The name "Skye" refers to the heavens and "Nohea" is Hawaiian for "lovely," explains her dad, Army 7th Special Forces Sgt. 1st Class Robert Mizner.

Photo courtesy of Northwest Florida Daily News.

"We are Lions, our motto is to serve"

As things turned out, the day at swimming lessons was not the only manifestation of Skye-Nohea's difficulties. Her difficulty in concentrating continued as she started school.

"When she couldn't understand, she would get upset," Mizner says.

Each day, getting into her mother's car after school, Skye-Nohea would collapse into the passenger seat, utterly exhausted. Eventually, Marie-Fleur Mizner's search led her to a specialist in Mississippi, who diagnosed Skye-Nohea with central auditory processing disorder. The condition, affecting just a small percentage of school-aged children, is marked by interference in the way the brain processes and interprets sounds, particularly human speech. Voices—of swimming instructors, teachers, parents—are lost in the cacophony of ambient noises—keyboards clacking, TVs droning, nearby conversations—that other people can tune out.

In Skye-Nohea's case, the condition was so pronounced that she couldn't eat in the school cafeteria.

"It was just too loud for her," her mother says.

Armed with an answer, Mizner went to Bluewater Elementary School. Initially, she says, Skye-Nohea's teacher tried using a megaphone in class to talk with her daughter. When that didn't work, Mizner got the Okaloosa County School District to purchase a special FM transmitter, worn around the teacher's neck, that sent her voice to receivers in Skye-Nohea's ears to filter out other sounds.

Still, Skye-Nohea had to deal with her problem at home. The family's insurance wouldn't cover the cost of the equipment, which can total several thousand dollars. The Mizners started an online GoFundMe campaign to raise money to get the equipment for home use, but raised just slightly more than US$1,000.

Then, one day, on a whim, Mizner went online and typed in the name of the system's manufacturer, Phonak. She learned that Gulf Coast Hearing Centers, with an office in Niceville, was involved with Phonak. She dialed the local business to ask about prices and told Skye-Nohea's story to owner Jim Dame.

"He was like, 'I want to help you. Let me see what I can do,'" Mizner remembers. "That touched me so much."

Dame, past president of the Panama City Lions club, soon met with Skye-Nohea and her mother, and turned to the service organization for help. Within weeks, with help from a price break from Dame, area Lions clubs had raised the money to provide the Mizners with a transmitter and receiver.

"I said, 'We are Lions, our motto is to serve,'" says District Governor Bobby Wright.

Debra Lubas, president of the Niceville-Valparaiso Lions Club, says meeting the Mizners' need wasn't anything special. "It's in the core of being a human being," she says.

For Edward Mitchell of the Crestview Lions Club, being involved in meeting the Mizners' need was "very rewarding."

Photo courtesy of Northwest Florida Daily News.

At home, Skye-Nohea's parents each use the transmitter to help keep their daughter focused, her father says, telling her things like "Dinner's ready," or even "Please pick up your toys."

"For the Lions club to step up, it was a huge relief," he says.

As a result of her experience, Marie-Fleur Mizner is urging parents not to simply accept a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, but to consider the possibility of an auditory processing disorder. "I'd never heard about this before," she says. "I'm just glad I listened to my gut."