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How Dr. Mark Syms Lost His Brother Twice

 In Podcast

Dr. Mark SymsDr. Mark Syms is a Neurotologist/Otologist and the Founder of the Arizona Hearing Center. He is one of the first physicians in the country to be board-certified in neurotology and is currently a national leader in hearing technology. After nearly two decades of experience treating ear problems, Dr. Syms has helped thousands of people improve their quality of life.

Dr. Syms graduated with honors from Boston College before earning his medical degree from Jefferson Medical College. He completed his fellowship training at the House Ear Clinic in Los Angeles, one of the world’s premier surgery organizations. Today, Dr. Syms frequently gives lectures on neurotology both nationally and internationally. He is also an extensively published author, a member of numerous professional organizations, and the host of his own podcast, ListenUp!.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Dr. Mark Syms’ experience growing up as the youngest of six kids
  • What Dr. Syms wanted to do when he grew up and how his eldest brother influenced his career path
  • Dr. Syms talks about how his other brother, Robbie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and later developed hearing loss
  • The impacts of hearing loss on social connection and effective communication
  • When should someone seek help for their hearing loss?
  • Where to learn more about Dr. Syms, his practice, and his book, Listen Up

In this episode…

People dealing with hearing loss often face a variety of challenges when it comes to communicating with others. Not only does it affect their social interactions, but it can also start to impact other aspects of their lives, such as their work, relationships, and mental wellbeing. If not corrected, hearing loss can become a barrier to many of life’s greatest joys.

Dr. Mark Syms has seen first-hand the negative impacts of hearing loss. After his brother, Robbie, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and later developed hearing loss, he became frustrated with the way people communicated with him. This caused Robbie to disconnect from his social life and ultimately isolate from his brother. Now, Dr. Syms wants to help others avoid these negative impacts and break down the social barriers caused by untreated hearing loss. 

In this first episode of ListenUp!, host Dr. Mark Syms, an Otologist/Neurotologist and Founder of the Arizona Hearing Center, is interviewed by Dr. Jeremy Weisz from Rise25. Dr. Syms discusses how his brothers influenced his career path, the social impacts of hearing loss, and the signs that you should see a doctor about your hearing. Stay tuned. 

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by the Arizona Hearing Center.

The Arizona Hearing Center is a cutting-edge hearing care facility providing comprehensive, family-focused care. Approximately 36 million Americans suffer from some sort of hearing loss, more than half of whom are younger than the age of 65. That’s why the team at the Arizona Hearing Center is focused on providing the highest-quality care using innovative technologies and inclusive treatment plans. 

As the Founder of the Arizona Hearing Center, Dr. Mark Syms is passionate about helping patients effectively treat their hearing loss so that they can stay connected with their family and friends and remain independent. He knows first-hand how hearing loss can impact social connection and effective communication. By relying on three core values—empathy, education, and excellence—Dr. Syms and his team of hearing loss experts are transforming the lives of patients. 

So what are you waiting for? Stop missing out on the conversation and start improving your quality of life today!    

To learn more about the Arizona Hearing Center, visit https://www.azhear.com/ or call us at 602-307-9919. We don’t sell hearing aids—we treat your hearing loss. 

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:04

Welcome to the Listen Up Podcast where we explore hearing loss, communication, connections and health.

Dr. Mark Syms 0:15

Hi, Dr. Mark Syms here, I’m the host of the Listen Up Podcast where I feature top leaders in health care. I have Jeremy Weisz here today from Rise25, who has done thousands of interviews with top healthcare experts. And we flip the script and he’ll be interviewing me.

Jeremy Weisz 0:30

Dr. Syms, I am really excited because what I love talking about is, you know, not only your expertise, but your background, and you have a very interesting upbringing. And we’re going to talk about how your two brothers influenced what you do today. But before we do, this episode is brought to you by Arizona Hearing Center. And Dr. Syms helps patients to effectively treat their hearing loss so they can connect better with their family and friends and remain independent. And the reason he’s so passionate about helping patients is because he lost his brother Robbie twice, and we’re going to talk about that actually, in today’s episode, but you know, he cares for ears. So you know, an ENT, he is the ear portion of that. And he’s performed over 10,000 ear surgeries over the past 20 years. He’s the founder of The Arizona Hearing Center. He’s the author of Listen Up, check it out, you can go to azhear.com. Contact them with questions or email their support team and check out their book on Amazon Listen Up. Okay. Dr. Syms? Two brothers. Um, but it goes beyond that. You grew up one of six?

Dr. Mark Syms 1:39

Correct.

Jeremy Weisz 1:39

What was that like?

Dr. Mark Syms 1:41

Ah, it was that it was controlled chaos. Let’s just put it that way. You know, it was Bedlam that was relatively organized. We had a great time, the house was always full. I grew up in one of those houses where we never locked the door. Because there was always somebody at home or always somebody coming in and out. And actually, it was a great childhood of bustling. I was the youngest of six. So one girl, and five boys all in a row. And I think probably by the time my parents got the last couple, they were hoping for another girl. But that’s not that wasn’t God’s plan for them.

Jeremy Weisz 2:15

How was it? How do you think being the youngest influenced you?

Dr. Mark Syms 2:21

Well, you know, I think there’s a lot of ways one is I had a lot of people to look up to, but I also had a lot of people to emulate and follow the way that I’ve watched them do their path. And so in some ways that influenced my path. You know, people always ask me if I was a rebellious youth. And I always say, Well, not really, because my sibs have already done all the rebellion, there was a lot of rebellion I didn’t have to bother to do. I watched from some of their mistakes, or some of the Rebellion that I didn’t do that. But definitely, they influenced me in terms of my, my path and my career choice. 

Jeremy Weisz 2:53

When you were growing up. What did you want to be when you’re growing up?

Dr. Mark Syms 2:58

Um, you know, I, so I really didn’t know, I knew I might, there was a heavy emphasis, emphasis on education in my family. And so I knew I was going to go to college and what I was going to do in college, I had two majors, I actually majored in biology and philosophy. And there was a point where I was considering getting a PhD in philosophy, but I chose medicine as my path. Yeah.

Jeremy Weisz 3:24

Let’s talk about your eldest brother and his influence on you.

Dr. Mark Syms 3:28

Yeah, so my eldest brother is a physician as well, him and I went to the same medical school. So, you know, obviously, I kind of followed him. And he also, I’m an ear, nose and throat doctor. He’s an ear, nose and throat doctor, and an ear doctor, and he’s an ear doctor in San Antonio. So I’d be hard pressed to say that I influenced him as compared to him to me because he did it first. And so you know, one of them is probably when people ask what you decided to go into, frankly, I look for people around the medicine who are happy with what they did on a day to day basis. And that was what attracted me to ear, nose and throat and then specifically what we call in our technology Otology/Neurotology, which is, as I tell people, the EMT, so I did a five year residency. And then after that, I did two more years specializing in medical and surgical treatment of diseases related to the year but he and I both did it there. You know, there was actually a point where we were entertaining, working together, but his partners hired somebody before me and so that’s okay. I’m perfectly happy with that. It turned out great for everyone, but that’s how much we were alive.

Jeremy Weisz 4:40

What was his advice to you? I’m sure you were asking him advice. Is he now kind of following his footsteps? What did he tell you?

Dr. Mark Syms 4:49

Well, you know, I mean, I think actually, this is more emulated from him, but and from me, my parents were, you know, to follow your passion, do what you love and do something that you enjoy. I think there was a large pastoral influence in my family. So helping others was really important. My parents, you know, would often go visit people when they were ill and have families when they were under down on their luck and stuff. So that was an important part of my upbringing. And I think, you know, that was part of it. And the other thing is, you know, work really hard at whatever you do, and pursue excellence. And so I think that that was emulated throughout my family, I watched my brother do that, and my father as well. And so that was something that I followed.

Jeremy Weisz 5:31

Yeah. So you had a tendency to kind of go into some type of helping profession. And I love that you said that is looking at people who are happy in what they’re doing, right? People all different avenues.

Dr. Mark Syms 5:45

Yeah, well, I mean, it’s a pretty good outcome, right? If people are happy with their lives, and maybe you should want to do what they’re doing, as compared to a good way to not pick what not to do is people who are unhappy, that’s certainly a pretty good pathway to not pursue. Um,

Jeremy Weisz 6:01

so your eldest brother obviously had a big influence on you, and talk about your third brother.

Dr. Mark Syms 6:07

So my third brother, Robbie, who unfortunately isn’t with us anymore. And I do remember this vividly through my childhood, he was five years my senior, so when he was in his early teens, so I was in my inner nine, he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. And so putting that in context, this was before, CAT scans existed before MRIs existed, and so he ended up having a tumor, and they attempted to remove it surgically, and were able to, and so then he got radiation. You know, as an interesting medical fact, my brother had one of the first hundred CT scans in the United States, and one of the first hundred MRIs because he was somebody that, you know, they wanted more information. And so he had some other procedures done that helped alleviate the tumor, it actually, in hindsight, was a benign tumor, but he had radiation and the long term effects of radiation can be difficult. And so one of the things that happened to him was in his 30s, and 20s, into his 30s, he developed hearing loss. And it’s only in hindsight, that I realized how much that actually affected him. As I learned more and more in depth more and more into hearing loss, it became very clear to me how that hearing loss had affected his life and affected his relationships. And that’s one of the reasons I’m very passionate about people treating their hearing loss appropriately, correctly, so they can remain connected and independent with people.

Jeremy Weisz 7:33

Yeah, I want to talk about how that affected them. First of all, I’m so sorry, you know, you, your family, and your parents must have been devastated at the time. Because you’re so tough, it doesn’t matter how old someone is, especially if someone’s younger. And, and I’m sure imprinted on you. How did it affect him? 

Dr. Mark Syms 7:56

Well, you know, I mean, I think he had hearing loss, especially if it goes untreated really became a barrier to social connection, a barrier to effective relationships, and a barrier to effective communication. And so oftentimes, I think he was very frustrated with how people communicated with him. And people were frustrated, how he communicated back, and it really became a huge barrier to what I would call normal relations. I mean, sadly, for me, you know, our relationship is very strained at the latter part of his life. And when I look back, a large part of that was because of his hearing loss, you know, we just weren’t jiving there connecting. Because the hearing loss was a big thing getting in the way. And, you know, in hindsight, you know, it’s kind of, you know, it was kind of like a dull moment, like, Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t realize that that was what was causing it. Because I know, if you could have a Scooby Doo moment and replay it. That’s not how I think things would have gone down. But you know, it is what it is. But I do, I do realize how profound it affected our relationship.

Jeremy Weisz 9:01

Yeah, I mean, we take these things for granted. Dr. Syms, I mean, people who have their hearing, we take it for granted until you either have a loved one who has it and you realize how frustrating it actually is. And sometimes you just get frustrated, you throw up your hands, you’re like, unfortunately, it was like it’s not even worth it. It’s just so frustrating. And that’s Yeah,

Dr. Mark Syms 9:20

I tell patients hearing loss is like baseball, but it’s harder. So what I mean by that in baseball, you get three strikes in here unless you get two so the example is, somebody says something to you to say what they repeated again, and you say, huh, and then they go Forget it. Like they’re out, right? Like after two tries. They’re out. And so, you know, it’s not immediate, it’s considered like, death by 1000 paper cuts like you’re slowly being connected from people because it becomes a barrier and boy, I’ll tell you, you know, he’s brutally honest. The grandchildren, they go like grandma can hear their own kids are kind of like Oh, Mom, Dad, you need to do something with the grandchild, return to their parents. ago. grandma, grandpa, they can’t hear they have a problem, right? Like, you can. So when they’re telling you, you know, it’s pretty bad.

Jeremy Weisz 10:06

Yeah. And people should check out Listen Up, I just thought of the next title of your next book. Okay. And I know you’re not ready to write the next book yet, but I am it was two strikes and you’re out? Yeah. I’ve never heard that before. Right. I love that, um, talk about, you know, how did people communicate with your brother? Well, I you know, I

Dr. Mark Syms 10:31

mean, I think you know, what happens is, is it’s it’s a two sided thing. One is, as there’s an ask for repetition, people start to hesitate to engage, right? Because they think, Oh, this is going to be more work. I think that’s it. And I think the other issue becomes kind of the anxiety and frustration in the person with hearing loss. So they’re oftentimes anxious when they’re approaching somebody, because it’s like, oh, I’m not sure what they’re going to say. This is going to be difficult. So there’s kind of an underlying anxiety in that respect, and the frustration and then I think the other part is, is the isolation, right? As you are slowly getting disconnected, it becomes the lonelier and lonelier world. And those, none of those things that I’m describing manifests themselves in a positive emotion. There are multiple negative ones that can be associated with it, but none of them are positive. So if you think of experiencing that frustration, alienation, anxiety, there is no positive outcome of those feelings in anybody.

Jeremy Weisz 11:34

So doctors, when do people come to you, I could see people, certain people coming right away, and certain people just delaying it for years before they actually get

Dr. Mark Syms 11:46

that as is by and large, too late, or not too late, later than is preferable. Right. And so, you know, one of the things that I think is a big part of hearing loss, people don’t realize is, people are not very good at perceiving their own hearing loss. In other words, they don’t know what they’re not hearing. And then the second thing is, people, they compensate for their hearing loss. So there’s really two good ways that you make up for hearing loss. One is what I call speech reading, which is looking at people’s face, mouth, and lips. So you can tell the difference between wife and wipe by looking at my lips. And as an aside, in this current pandemic, putting a mask over it takes that away and makes it more difficult. The second is context. And so once people know the subject matter, then they can, their brain will fill in the blanks, okay. But I think the real answer is, if somebody who loves you tells you, you have a hearing problem, you probably do right, it’s not because they’re trying to, you know, bust your chops or give you a hard time, they’re telling you that because they love you. And so I say there’s always three groups of people, there’re your loved ones, and you love them, because they’re brutally honest, you’re also frustrated with them, because they’re brutally honest. But they’re the ones who are going to tell you the second group of your friends, most of your friends, they’re going to maybe try you or not say anything. Because the way we get along as friends is not what we say to each other. But what we don’t say to each other, right? It’s we don’t say, Hey, you, last year, and they do something about it, right? That’s not how it works. And then everybody else, they don’t care, they just think you’re not sharp or smart, and they’re not going to tell you. So if a loved one is telling you it’s like you know, when your zippers down, he tells you love. Right? And so the point is, is if they’re the ones who are willing to tell you that they’re also the ones who are willing to tell you about hearing loss. So if somebody said, the other thing is if you have any suspicion, then you should get a comprehensive hearing test and see, like, you know, you don’t know you have high blood pressure till somebody measures your blood pressure, right? It’s not something you perceive is something that’s measurable.

Jeremy Weisz 13:43

What are some of the signs of people, they need to get it checked out? Right? So one you mentioned, okay, someone tells you, you have you have hearing problems? What else are some of the signs that people should look at?

Dr. Mark Syms 13:54

People know, the most one is, is turning up the volume of the TV, right? And so now everybody has a numerical gauge on the TV. So as the number goes up, or somebody complains about the TV being too loud, that’s probably one of the things if you’re asking people to repeat themselves, you know, or the mindset that people are starting to mumble. You know, it’s always interesting to me when one spouse says, Well, my, my spouse, mumbles I go, did they mumble when you married them? They go, No, I go, why would you expect them to turn into a mumbler? in their old age, right? And it doesn’t, that doesn’t really happen. And so it’s also if you’re, if you’re working harder to communicate, right? And so, you know, when you think about those things I was talking about, like, you know, everybody has problems with background noise. But if you’re having more problems with background noise, then that’s a problem. Ultimately, if you think you might have hearing loss, you probably should get your hearing checked. The worst thing that can happen is given your normal hearing, and you get reassured that your ears are healthy, but if you think of hearing loss, you need to get checked.

Jeremy Weisz 14:55

Yeah. First of all, Dr. Syms, thank you, it’s always great chatting with you. Few people can go to azhear.com they can check out Listen Up, you know more episodes of the podcast and Listen Up the book. Are there any other places we should point people towards online? That would be good.

Dr. Mark Syms 15:12

All right. The book is at www.listenuphearing.com, so that’s a specific website for the book or the www.azhear.com. That’s my practice. So either way they can get a hold of me or get a hold of our staff and there’s plenty more information. We’re really dedicated to educating people about hearing loss. There’s a lot of vibrant information to help people to understand hearing loss and how it affects them.

Jeremy Weisz 15:37

Check out more episodes. Thanks, everyone.

Outro 15:44

Thanks for tuning in to the Listen Up Podcast. We’ll see you again next time and be sure to click subscribe to get updates on future episodes.

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