Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
It’s been three years since 10-year-old Braden Baker appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show to explain how his hearing aid-eating dog (appropriately named Chewy) inspired him to raise money for others who couldn’t afford hearing devices. At the time, Braden had raised $23,000 through his GoFundMe account, which he donated to the Oticon Hearing Foundation. Armed with a generous donation from Ellen and the Cheerios Kid Heroes campaign, he headed to Guatemala with his mom and some Entheos Audiology Cooperative audiologists to distribute hearing aids.
You might say the experience activated his super power.
Since then, Braden has raised nearly $114,000 and participated in four additional mission trips to Guatemala, Ecuador and Zambia. Additionally, his GoFundMe monies have been used to donate hearing instruments to hospitals in the United States as well as to victims of Hurricane Harvey. He’s been named an Ambassador for both Oticon Hearing Foundation and Entheos Hearing the Call. And, in December 2019, Marvel comics named him a “true Super Hero” as part of Marvel’s Hero Project. His Super Hero name? Battlin’ Braden.
Just last month, Braden journeyed to Guatemala again. During his trip, he and other volunteers helped the country’s sole audiologist, Dr. Paty Castellanos, test 23 newborns, screen hundreds of students, and fit 227 people with hearing aids.
Braden was born with bilateral sensorineural hearing loss, a diagnosis his mom, Ashley, says they knew before they left Cook’s Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. With mild to moderate hearing loss in one ear and severe hearing loss in the other, Braden began wearing hearing aids at the age of three months old. Further testing revealed he had a genetic condition called Connexin 26, an autosomal recessive mutation of the GJB2/Connexin 26 gene.
“I’ve embraced wearing hearing aids because that’s all I’ve ever known,” he said. “I kinda like it. It’s fun to have something unique about yourself. It makes you feel special.”
His rise to super hero status began when Chewy ate his second pair of hearing aids and he received a reprimand for being so careless. That’s when he learned that many people couldn’t afford the cost of hearing instruments and, in the philanthropic spirit of his favorite television host, Ellen Degeneres, made a video imploring others to donate to the cause.
“He wanted to post it on my Facebook page,” Ashley said. “I was shocked that Braden had the wherewithal to do that — it innately came from him. I have loved watching him grow in this experience and how he’s kept with it. That’s what we’re most impressed with.”
How to help
Braden believes you’re never too young (or too old) to make an impact. During his mission trips, he’s learned how to make ear molds and screen for hearing loss. He’s helped fit hearing aids on hundreds of people. Although audiology interests him, he’s keeping his options open for the future. Right now he’s focused on raising money for hearing-related causes through his GoFundMe page and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes his way.
“I’m happy that I’m able to be part of an amazing community that helps others who need hearing aids all around the world,” he said. “I hope my story will inspire some people to do some research, donate money to a campaign for hearing. There are thousands out there. Just choose one. It will go to something good.”
If you’re inspired but don’t know where to start, here are a few suggestions:
“So many people say ‘your son is so amazing’ and I agree that he is,” Ashley said. “I believe it’s because he stepped up to the experience that he was given and we stepped up as a family. Saying “yes” led us to the next experience—and then to the next experience. How the story manifested and played out organically really rings true for us. We have been forever emotionally touched by the whole experience.”