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Gallery owner Patrick K. Pryor opens up about his hearing loss

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When artist Patrick K. Pryor, co-owner of Kolman & Pryor Gallery, was six years old, he played his first T-ball game. He had recently been diagnosed with hearing loss. He was placed in the outfield, and was so far away from the action that he began chasing grasshoppers and picking flowers. He never heard the crack of the bat or the crowd of people yelling at him that the ball was coming his way. Eventually, he heard the "thud" of the baseball as it landed near him. It was his last game.

At the Catholic grade school he attended in suburban Detroit, Pryor was made to sit in front of the class so he could hear his teacher. Kids called him "Beltone Boy," after a hearing aid brand. He was teased for being awkward and “not getting the joke,” when often he hadn't heard the joke in the first place. “I really liked other people and I wanted to participate in everything, but I just couldn’t connect,” he says. “I accepted this as normal because that was all I knew.”

Often, he would simply hide his hearing loss. “I have lived with having to constantly ask for repetition, pretend to hear, or — this is the worst — repeat back mistakenly what I thought I had heard,” he says. When the third option happens, the person he’s talking to sometimes thinks that he just doesn’t understand or “get” what they are saying.

Over his lifetime of living with hearing loss, Pryor has learned how to cope by cupping his hands over his ears, reading lips, or simply avoiding situations where he knows he’ll be frustrated. Often his life partner, artist Jodi Reeb, takes on the task of repeating conversations from group situations after the fact. 

As co-owner of Kolman & Pryor Gallery, it makes things especially hard, as going to talks, presentations, and seminars are nearly impossible. That’s why he’s now going public with his hearing loss for the first time. At the urging of Reeb, the couple has put forth a fundraising campaign for a hearing aid which, unbelievably, is not covered by his insurance. So far, they’ve raised over half of the $6,000 they need.

With the money raised, Pryor will buy a new hearing aid that integrates with an iPhone for taking calls and listening to music and audiobooks. He had a hearing aid back in 2007, but he found it to be cumbersome and not fit with his lifestyle, especially since he couldn’t use it with a cellphone (many cause feedback in the ear). He had to take them out when speaking on the phone or if he wanted to listen to music through his earbuds. He eventually lost the pair while traveling on the light rail, and never recovered them. “I felt shame and great disappointment about the loss and my inability to purchase new ones due to the high cost,” he says.

Since going public and launching the campaign, “the response from the arts community has been extremely supportive and generous,” Pryor says. “I feel immense gratitude toward everyone who has donated money, shared stories, shared possible resources, and expressed their support. I am a little overwhelmed by it all.”

Pryor has also begun to ask himself how he can help others. “There are people in Minnesota who are struggling with such greater setbacks than what I have,” he says. “I feel that as an artist and a gallery owner there must be something that I can do to give back in some way to help others hear.” 

To donate to Pryor's GoFundMe campaign, click here