ANN COLA-SCHUH: ENTHUSIASTIC AUDIOLOGIST
“TREATMENT OF A PATIENT IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE DIAGNOSIS”
When Ann Cola-Schuh was 12 years old and growing up in Ohio, a young cousin contracted meningitis, leading to deafness and hard-to-understand speech. She remembers being among the few in her family who could make out what the boy was saying.
“I learned empathy early on, to pay attention to what others need,” Cola-Schuh says. “Being with my cousin, seeing how the illness had changed his life, was an awakening for me.”
The experience also led Cola-Schuh to recognize her life-long professional calling: audiology.
Later, as an undergraduate at Ohio’s Bowling Green University, Cola-Schuh pursued the field. Then, as a graduate student at Michigan State, she took a course on balance and dizziness disorders and became hooked on the study of the vestibular system and how it interacts with the brain. A doctorate in audiology, from A.T. Still University, followed.
These days, Cola-Schuh is the founding director of the Columbus Balance Center, a state-of-the-art facility offering a full array of vestibular testing. She is also director of audiology at the clinic’s parent, Diseases of the Ears, Nose and Throat, Inc.
“Three years ago, a new COO challenged us to think of ways to expand the business,” Cola-Schuh recalls. “I said, ‘balance center!’ because we had been seeing so many patients with dizzy problems that I knew we would be serving a real need in the community.”
Research about how to launch and operate a balance center, with Cola-Schuh and others on the road visiting other centers and seeking out experts, followed. One important decision: what kind of diagnostic equipment should the new clinic utilize?
After thorough reviews, the Columbus Balance Center purchased its arsenal of testing devices, including Neuro-Kinetics’ I-Portal® NOTC (Neuro-Otologic Test Center) system.
“Treatment of a patient is only as good as the diagnosis,” Cola-Schuh says. “We invested in the I-Portal system because it was the best on the market and because we were impressed by the research into brain injuries and other fields that Neuro Kinetics was conducting. There are so many areas where this type of testing could be useful.”
In October 2009 – with a 25-strong staff, including audiologists and a physical therapist full time and otolaryngologists on call – the Columbus Balance Center opened its doors.
As its director, Cola-Schuh pushes for collaboration and open communications among the specialists.
“If I learned anything in recent months, it’s how much we can improve patient diagnosis by working together,” she says.
One example: the head start the clinic’s physical therapist can enjoy armed with the NOTC’s detailed diagnosis of vestibular problems. “Our PT can be so much more effective because she has a clear picture of what the problem is. The precision and level of detail of the NOTC analysis makes a real difference.”
Making a difference is something Cola-Schuh knows a lot about. Besides her role in starting her clinic, she is active in various professional associations, including having served as president of the Ohio Academy of Audiology and earlier this year winning its 2010 Clinical Excellence Award. She is also a fellow at the American Academy of Audiology and a member of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
And then there’s swimming. Cola-Schuh set records at her high school and then went on be a star on the Bowling Green team until an injured knee permanently sidelined her from competition. In the years since, she has devoted much of her free time to refereeing USA Swimming meets, including national competitions. A current goal is to earn the much-coveted spot as starter at the 2012 Olympic trials in Omaha.
In the meantime, Cola-Schuh’s three sons are themselves gearing up for careers in healthcare. The youngest, just out of high school, expects to major in a science at Eastern Michigan University. The middle son works part-time at Cola-Schuh’s clinic while a student at Ottterbein College. And the oldest is pursuing his doctorate in physical therapy. Her husband is a commercial real estate appraiser.
“My love of taking care of people has passed down to my sons,” she says, with characteristic enthusiasm. “There is so much new opportunity being created with advances in diagnostic testing. We’re understanding more, able to see more. My sons will experience so many advances. It’s an exciting time.”
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