Danny Burns’ friend, Laurie Savino, was diagnosed with Meniere’s about a year ago. Before COVID, Laurie was a successful New York City real estate agent selling $10 million a year. As the real estate market dried up during the pandemic, Laurie also began experiencing Meniere’s symptoms. A mere year later, she’d lost most of her hearing, which has recently deteriorated to the point (less than 5% of her hearing remains) that she is eligible for cochlear implants, and she’s scheduled for surgery in a couple of weeks.
Danny has been impressed with Laurie’s positivity and energy: she’s still selling real estate and using tools like closed captioning to help her. He partnered with her to hire a production team to film this mini-documentary documenting her experience. They are generously using this opportunity to raise awareness and funds for VeDA. Read Laurie’s story, watch her video below, and donate to help vestibular warriors like Laurie find a life rebalanced.
In August of 2020, I woke up and the room was spinning. I had been dealing with what I thought was an ear infection for a week. I’d gone through the typical medical treatments, going to my doctor and taking the usual antibiotics. Still in pain, I went back for a second time, and I was prescribed ear drops.
I’m a licensed Real Estate Associate Broker In New York and New Jersey and have been helping my clients sell their homes or find their dream homes for five years. I’m used to being independent, in control, and helping others; yet, here I was struck with severe vertigo. I found myself bedridden for a month. Afterward, I couldn’t dress myself or walk without the assistance of a cane, and I was unable to drive. Because I live alone, I needed to voice dial a friend to come to help me. My vertigo and severe imbalance lasted for six weeks.
After several months, I was eventually diagnosed with Ménière’s Disease by a leading ear specialist certified in otology and neurotology. By then, I lost 35% of my hearing. Bear in mind, this occurred during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic while everyone was masked. I can’t hear my clients or friends or family, and I can’t see their lips in order to read them. Everyday tasks, like ordering food, were challenges for me, not to mention technical conversations required of a complex real estate transaction.
As someone who faces challenges head-on, I tried several treatments in the hopes of restoring my hearing, such as prednisone both orally and shot into the ear. It did not work. I tried the water pill, which helped bring back some hearing in the beginning but was not helpful in the long run. I tried betahistine to help with the dizziness, which has worked well, and I continue to take it. I’ve found that meclizine does help with acute dizziness. I’ve gone through vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT) for my balance, which I highly recommend. I’m currently doing pilates and yoga twice a week to help with balance. I also follow a low sodium diet and don’t consume caffeine, chocolate, or alcohol.
My life has changed dramatically. I am now completely deaf and must rely on technology to get through conversations and typical media consumption. I can no longer enjoy music. I have to rely on vibration technology to wake up in the morning and to alert me to phone calls, which keeps me connected. I still have trouble walking straight and need to move at a slower pace so I don’t get dizzy or fall. Working in front of a computer or driving for too long a period hurts my eyes.
Still, I am determined to overcome these obstacles. I rely on technology to compensate for my hearing impairment. My family and friends are a support network that has helped me tremendously. My immediate circle of colleagues helps me get through conversations and appointments, and I hired an assistant to get through phone calls faster and more efficiently. My dog and my Google Pixel phone also have been invaluable. I know sign language from being a Girl Scout, but most hearing people don’t. I am in between both worlds, and I want to create awareness for people like me who want to communicate and live our lives to the fullest. I slowly am figuring it out and navigating my way.
I learned about the resources of the Vestibular Disorder Association (VeDA) through my associations with the Dale Carnegie Institute, where I am a certified trainer. A coaching assistant here, Daniel Burns, had been helping me to facilitate classes with the institute, and he happened to see a video I posted on social media about my Meniere’s disease and the story of how I became deaf. Danny was moved to reach out to me for an interview to help bring awareness about Meniere’s Disease. Through research, he found VeDA and contacted their Executive Director, Cynthia Ryan. She was inspired by my story and wants to support our fundraising efforts.
All of this has been a learning experience. My advice for anyone in a similar situation is to seek medical help, ideally from a vestibular specialist, at the first signs of dizziness, hearing loss, or imbalance. I lost valuable time and my hearing deteriorated because I thought my symptoms were just an ear infection or reaction to changes in barometric pressure. This disease takes a toll on the body because we are working overtime to adjust to the dizziness and imbalance. It sounds simple, but eat a proper diet, exercise, and drink lots of water. Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Take advantage of vestibular therapies that help to regain your balance.
My doctors reassure me that, with a cochlear implant, I’ll be able to hear music again, enjoy the theater, and have seamless conversations with clients. I’ll have some semblance of a “normal” life. I see the struggles of people who can’t afford treatments for this disease, which oftentimes aren’t covered by insurance. I want to use what I’ve learned to create something that helps people overcome these challenges. At the very least I want to bring awareness to the disease and to the people, like me, affected by it. It’s like my work in real estate–I want to help people overcome obstacles and live their dreams.