Like any good mom, Angela Gutierrez, 60, loves hearing about her children’s
lives — and with seven kids that requires both ears. Since several
of her children live in Mexico, many of their conversations take place
over the phone, making her ability to hear even more essential.
From the time Gutierrez moved to Napa nearly a decade ago, she had dealt
with sensitivity in her left ear, but she hadn’t pursued treatment
because she didn’t have health insurance. When the pain became unbearable
and she began to lose her hearing, Gutierrez knew she couldn’t wait
any longer to take action. She made an appointment with her primary care
provider (PCP), who referred her to
Kathleen Healey, MD, an otolaryngologist with
St. Joseph Health Medical Group, for an exam and a hearing test.
“Angela had a large hole in her left eardrum. The hole was onethird
the size of the eardrum and it was causing moderate to severe hearing
loss,” said Dr. Healey, who also explained that Gutierrez’s
hearing test showed a 61 decibel hearing level (dB HL) in her left ear
(the standard range is 0-20 dB HL).
Dr. Healey recommended surgery to mend the perforation. Since Gutierrez
didn’t have insurance and could not afford the operation, she was
connected with Maria Puentes Alfaro, a social worker at Queen of the Valley’s
Department of Community Outreach. Puentes Alfaro worked with Gutierrez’s
PCP to submit an application for Angela to receive surgery at no cost
through Operation Access — an organization which connects care providers
willing to donate their time, talent and technologies to help low-income
or uninsured patients in need.
“It’s a tremendous gift to have physicians and other organizations
willing to help our neighbors who are suffering from ailments that are
easily fixed. Donating an hour or two of surgery can transform someone’s
life, preventing future ER visits, pain or disabilities,” said Daniel
Rabkin, program manager at Operation Access.
Through this partnership, she was scheduled for tympanoplasty surgery with
Dr. Healey at
Queen of the Valley Medical Center at no cost. During the 90-minute procedure, Dr. Healey used a grafting
technique to fill the hole on the eardrum by using fascia from the muscle
tissue behind the ear. Results from a follow-up hearing test, donated
by Microtone Audiology, showed Angela’s hearing improved significantly,
falling just outside of the typical range.
“Angela was extremely happy with the result — the way it felt
and the way she could hear,” said Dr. Healey. “Without surgery,
Gutierrez’s ear may have become infected. It’s nice to work
for an organization whose mission is to help all people, especially those
who may not have the means to pay.”
Dr. Healey also identified mild sensorineural hearing loss in Gutierrez’s
right ear. Through a collaborative effort, Gutierrez was connected with
Advanced Instruments, Inc., who donated hearing aids for both ears. “The
donation of a hearing aid was the finishing touch; through our partnership,
we were able to improve Angela’s hearing significantly,” said
“I am very thankful and appreciative that the surgery and hearing
aid were donated,” said Gutierrez. “It’s nice to be
able to hear my children and understand what they are saying. Now I am
able to truly listen to them and be there for them when they need me.”
Queen of the Valley, as well as the other St. Joseph Health ministries,
devotes a percentage of its net income to outreach activities and services
that care for the under-served and disadvantaged. Partnerships with Operation
Access — as well as schools, businesses, local community groups
and national organizations — make an enduring impact on our community.
For more information, visit
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.