Why I’m Leaving a Legacy to the American Tinnitus Association

GaryBy Gary Reul

In 1994, my wife and I were enjoying another warm day traveling through the Everglades when I spotted a sign that read “AIR BOAT RIDES.” I had seen these boats in movies, skimming across the water off into the sunset or some new adventure. We bought tickets for what we thought would be a pleasant ride, and, as we watched a craft pull into the dock making very little noise, I never imagined what we were about to encounter.

We boarded the boat last, so we had to sit in front of the 350-horsepower engine that propels the enormous fan blades. The ride started slowly and somewhat quietly, but when the boat driver hit the gas, we went roaring – literally – through the tall grasses. We later found out the engine, which was right behind our heads, was producing 110 continuous decibels, which damage hearing after just one minute.

Our ride lasted 30 minutes. As I got off the boat, I heard loud noise in my head, even though the engine had returned to a low hum. It didn’t go away, and later I learned I had developed hyperacusis, which is sensitivity to sound that doesn’t bother someone with normal hearing, in addition to tinnitus.

Once home, I followed the usual pattern of doctor’s appointments for those struggling with tinnitus, starting with my family physician, then audiologist, otolaryngologist, and neurologist. Each said, “Go home and learn to live with it.”

One physician mentioned that he had heard of a psychiatrist who had done research on tinnitus at a local university pain clinic. I met briefly with that research physician, who prescribed the antidepressant Paxil® (paroxetine hydrochloride), because it had helped other tinnitus patients. It took about two weeks to take effect, and, although it did not relieve the sound, it allowed me to function with my tinnitus.

At the time, I was a school district administrator and had to attend and facilitate many daily meetings, which put a real strain on me. Before each meeting, I’d explain to the group that I had tinnitus and hyperacusis, adding a brief explanation of what those conditions were and the need for a quiet environment. One day, another administrator stopped by my office to share that he also had tinnitus and had joined the American Tinnitus Association, which offered useful information about the condition.

That was when my long journey with the American Tinnitus Association began. After joining in the 1990s, I discovered the ATA committees, so I applied to join one. After two years of committee work, I was asked to join the ATA board of directors, and a year after joining the board, I was elected vice chair for a two-year term. As my term was coming to an end, the ATA executive director (ED) resigned unexpectedly, creating an immediate need for a temporary replacement. I agreed to that role for a year, which gave the board enough time to find a qualified candidate. I moved to Portland, where the ATA headquarters was until 2017 and served as ED for one year and one day.

Interacting with fellow patients with tinnitus all over the country was a rewarding experience. When we found our next ED, I returned to the board as chair for a two-year term.

My journey with the ATA continues. I’m the current ATA board treasurer and spend several hours a week fulfilling this duty. My tinnitus has not subsided. In fact, it has grown worse over the years. The severity of my hyperacusis has essentially made me a recluse in my home. My wife, daughter, and granddaughter have had to live with my many ups and downs over the years, and I appreciate greatly the sacrifices they have made to accommodate me over the past 24 years since that fateful 30-minute boat ride through the Everglades.

At the age of 80, though I now have a few other health issues besides tinnitus and hyperacusis, my wife and I wish to continue supporting the ATA, so we listed it as a beneficiary in our wills. It is fitting that an organization that has helped me, my family, and thousands of others should be remembered in a legacy gift, no matter how large or small. I know through my many years of leadership in the ATA that each time we are remembered in someone’s will, we are humbled and emboldened to continue our mission to serve the tinnitus community. Importantly, the ATA is funded entirely through individual donations, so as you continue your journey living with tinnitus, I hope you, too, will consider making ongoing contributions to the ATA and a gift in your will that will help us carry on the valuable work this organization does on behalf of patients, healthcare providers, and researchers.

Gary Reul, EdD, was an educator for 48 years, working in various positions, including junior and high school teacher, university professor, counselor, principal, and superintendent in Issaquah, Washington, where he is currently retired. Dr. Reul is current treasurer of the ATA board of directors.