Hearing Aids for a War Hero

Hearing Aids Subsidy – a Tribute to a War Hero

Rattling sound of the propellers roared through the air.  Captain “Winkie” Ho Weng Toh was piloting the B-25 Mitchell bomber in the early morning of March 1945.  His heart was burning with fire and could not wait to bomb the hell out of the Japanese military installations. Captain Ho dropped the bombs when he finally reached his targets. “Boom!” “Boom!” Thunderous explosions rang through the morning sky. Captain Ho’s ears hurt but he was not bothered. He was proud to have accomplished his mission.

Captain Ho was a member of the elite Flying Tigers, CACW (Chinese American Composite Wing) air force unit set up by the Americans to help the Chinese fight off Japanese invasion in World War II.

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Captain Ho with the B-25 Mitchell bomber in Hanchung Air Base, Shaanxi China, 1944-5

Ho Weng Toh was born in 1920 in Ipoh, Malaysia. He was studying in Hong Kong University when Hong Kong fell to the Japanese. Weng Toh fled to China where he volunteered to join the Chinese Air Force. He went through a rigorous selection process and was eventually chosen to be a flying cadet.  He was shipped off to Arizona, United States and was trained under the best of the best to be a bomber pilot. After his training, he returned to China, fought alongside American pilots of the Flying Tigers and won many battles against the Japanese.

Captain Ho was one of the first four Asian pilots to join Malayan Airways in Kallang Airport. He later became a pioneering member of Singapore Airlines (SIA), one of the best airlines in the world. He started training pilots since 1963 and nurtured so many that he was affectionately known as “Daddy-O”.

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Captain Ho (second from right) with his fellow flying cadets and instructor at Thunderbird Airfield, Arizona, USA.

One afternoon in 2011, Captain Ho walked into my clinic.  At 91, he was still strong and alert and looked more like a gentleman in his 60s. Years of noise exposure as a pilot and along with presbycusis, he developed a bilateral moderate to severe sensorineural hearing loss. He had a pair of Sonic Innovation completely-in-canal (CIC) hearing aids.  Amazingly this pair of CICs was given to him by his American friend and they were not even customised to his ear! The hearing aids were working well for him until they broke down a couple of months ago.  There was nothing much I could do for him as there was no Sonic Innovation distributor in Singapore. However, what he really needed was a pair of new hearing aids!

Captain Ho had gone to see the medical social worker but was told that he did not qualify for financial assistance. In his 90s, Captain Ho needs to keep his retirement savings for his daily expenses rather than spend on hearing aids. His children are also in their geriatric years and need to take care of themselves. If he was in Taiwan, he would have enjoyed all the free medical benefits for war

veterans and be given a pair of free hearing aids. However, he chose to come to Singapore and helped to build up our country in the early years.

In July 2013, the government started to subsidise hearing aids for Singaporeans 60 years and above with low household income. I texted Captain Ho to inform him about the good news but there was no reply. I found out that later that he had changed his phone number. Fortunately, he came in one day to see an Ear Nose Throat doctor. I was busy on that day and my fellow audiologist, Lawson Peters saw him. Lawson recommended a pair of new CICs for him. Despite his age, he had good manual dexterity to handle the CICs. He only had to pay three hundred dollars for them with the subsidy instead of the usual three thousand dollars!

On the day of hearing aid fitting, Captain Ho was elated! He could hear very well and was really happy with the outcome. Back home, his hearing aids enabled him to enjoy television programmes better, communicate with his friends and family members with ease and engage in social activities like playing bridge and dancing with more confidence. In his own words, “now I have a new lease of life….”

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Captain Ho (left), Lawson Peters (center) and the author, Steven Lee (right) in a hearing aid fine tuning session, 2014.

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At 94, Captain Ho is still healthy, alert and an epitome of active ageing (center) with Lawson Peters (left) and the author, Steven Lee (right), 2014.

Written by Steven Lee Lock Hey with inputs and permission from Captain Ho Wen Toh. The author is an audiologist in a public hospital in Singapore. June 2014