King Chung leads humanitarian trips to Poland and beyond, offering audiology services to those in desperate need

When the Ukraine war began in early 2022, Dr. King Chung wanted to help. 

“When the war started, I was really mad. I was thinking, ‘How can anyone start a war in this day and age?’ Chung shared. “And then I thought, ‘What can I do to help?’”

So, during the Thanksgiving break this year, the IHP’s newest audiology professor led a team of audiologists and students from Boston Children’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University to provide free audiology services to Ukrainian refugees in Poland. The trip was not her first. 

There, the hearing team checked the outer, middle, and inner ear status of the refugees and fitted high-performance hearing aids. The balance team from Vanderbilt University offered balance, ocular motility, and vestibular screenings. Children and adults with medically treated conditions were referred to seek help at the local public health system.

According to the EU Temporary Protective Directive, Ukrainian refugees can enjoy the same public health services as the citizens of the country in which they choose to reside. In the Polish system, citizens enjoy free medical and hearing services but devices are not fully covered – adults only receive €400 and children receive €1000 per hearing aid. The rest is out of pocket. High end hearing aids cost more than €2500 per aid, and as such, many refugees are not able to afford them. 

individuals work with patients offering audology services
The team from Vanderbilt University screens the balance and vestibular system of a refugee patient (center).

“We started the hearing aid services in March 2023 because we found a high percentage of hearing loss when we tested the refugees in November 2022,” said Chung. “An estimated 30% of those with hearing loss have war-related hearing loss.” 

This, she explained, can be caused by loud explosions or other trauma to the inner ear caused by close proximity to such a violent war. 

November's trip to Poland was Chung’s fourth to serve Ukrainian refugees in the past year. The program began in November 2022 when she was an audiology professor at Northern Illinois University (NIU); the trips have continued since her arrival to the MGH Institute in August, when she accepted her position as Professor of Audiology for the IHP’s new Doctor of Audiology program

A 2019 Fulbright Scholar, Chung started “Heart of Hearing” over a decade ago and through the years has led students on 16 international humanitarian trips to eight different countries. 

Chung’s work in Poland began as a result of previously scheduled academic commitments. Before the war began, Chung had a trip booked to attend a conference in Warsaw in April 2022. Her department chair at NIU suggested she meet with a professor at Jagiellonian University in Kraków to explore a potential study abroad opportunity.

three women look at computers
Dr. Tran Do (far right) and Dr. Amal Awdeh (center) fit hearing aids to a refugee patient.

When the war broke out in February of that year, Chung contacted a number of nonprofit organizations in Kraków, eventually developing a partnership with Jewish Community Center. Further partnerships with Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte, Federal University of Paraiba, RUSH University, University of Sao Paulo, Vanderbilt University and the Committee for Defense of Democracy have led to a blend of students, faculty, and volunteers making these trips to Poland to assist in the “Heart of Hearing” missions. 

From the stories the Ukrainian refugees told, Chung estimated that approximately 30% of the hearing disorders (e.g., hearing loss, perforated eardrums) were due to the horrific explosions and bombings many endured during the war. Others simply have not had access to hearing aids.

Chung’s next trip to Poland is in March 2024.  Part of her goal is to inspire others - including IHP students - to get involved. 

“I see offering humanitarian services as a way for me to use my expertise to fight social injustice,” Chung said. “I hope more people who will get involved in humanitarian work. My goal for taking students and faculty from other universities and audiologists from other organizations is to lower the thresholds for them to lead independent missions to other countries to help people in need.” 

Chung has begun collaborating with other faculty at the IHP including Audiology Chair Andrea Pittman to brainstorm future humanitarian trips, including ones to Brazil, Congo, Kenya, and Mozambique in the coming years. Chung‘s commitment to global health and accessibility is making a global impact; she has no signs of slowing down. 

“We must use our privileged position to help our fellow human beings who are in disadvantaged situations,” said Chung.

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group of students and faculty stand outside fancy building
The November 2023 Poland group stands in front of the Peter and Paul Church in Krakow, Poland. L to R: Dr. Daniel Romero, Dr. Tran Do, Aspen Bombardo, Dr. Jonathon Neukam, Elizabeth Grossman, Julia Englund, Drs. Amal Awdeh and Dr. King Chung.