In the months after she went deaf, Mai Vang, 35, found solace picking up trash from streets and organizing fundraisers to support her neighbors on St. Paul’s East Side.
Now, a local business and a collection of online benefactors are returning the favor.
Earlier this month, ReSound North America, a Bloomington-based hearing aid distributor, donated a hearing aid for Mai Vang’s right ear. Meanwhile, donors have flocked to her online GoFundMe page to help pay for a cochlear implant in her left ear.
“The thought that most of them I don’t even know melts my heart and gives me strength,” Mai Vang said. “They want me to hear.”
Mai Vang created the GoFundMe page last week in an attempt to raise money for a cochlear implant, which doctors say is the only way for her to regain hearing in her left ear.
In nine days, more than 60 online donors have raised over $3,000. Mai Vang said she hopes her insurance will cover some expenses, although Dr. Matthew Carlson, her physician at the Mayo Clinic, said there’s a reasonable chance her request will get denied.
There are about 20 cases of sudden hearing loss per 100,000 people each year, according to Carlson, but Mai Vang’s case of fluctuations in both ears is “exceptionally rare,” he said. “A cochlear implant would significantly change her life.”
Mai Vang’s health scare began two years ago. She woke up confused, unable to hear the birds chirping outside or the laughter of her sons Kong, 12, and Kounew, 9, watching television. Doctors confirmed her fear: she had gone deaf.
Unable to conduct business, Mai Vang gave up her life insurance career and faced a growing stack of bills. It was the start of a new life.
“She’s relatively disabled from this,” Carlson said.
Since her insurance wouldn’t cover initial medical expenses, Mai Vang started making eggrolls by the thousands to raise funds. In the past few months, she fried more than 14,000 egg rolls in her home kitchen, which she sold for $1 each. But it quickly became clear that the “Egg Roll Queen” didn’t have the inventory or kitchen space to pay for a cochlear implant, which can approach six figures, solely off those profits.
That’s when her neighbors stepped up. Trudy Baltazar contacted ReSound in Bloomington. Then Rodger Bakke, a regional sales manager at ReSound, invited Mai Vang and her husband to visit his office.
“They were so genuine and really nice people,” Bakke said.
Mai Vang left the meeting with a hearing aid for her right ear, courtesy of ReSound’s philanthropy program.
Perhaps the greatest response for Mai Vang has been online, where strangers have responded to her story with donations.
Jason LeDuc first met Mai Vang at one of the fundraisers she organized on behalf of Shannon Morrison, LeDuc’s former high school classmate who was murdered last month. The event raised several thousand dollars for Morrison’s family. In the following weeks, LeDuc noticed the other community benefits that Mai Vang was holding.
“I was just blown away by her kind heart,” said LeDuc, who purchased egg rolls from Mai Vang and contributed to her GoFundMe page.
Mai Vang repaid the compliment.
“It’s amazing to see that people support,” she said. “They want me to hear.”
Ben Bartenstein can be reached at 651-228-5488.
Donations to Mai Vang’s GoFundMe page can be made at gofundme.com/maivang_hearing.