Mark McCarthy/Starkey Hearing Foundation
David and Kelly help fit a young Nairobian with a hearing aid to hear for the first time.
This summer, St. Louis Blues captain David Backes and wife Kelly made a special visit to Nairobi, Kenya to deliver a life-changing gift to Kenyans in need. The Backeses accompanied Starkey Hearing Foundation to personally fit hearing aids for impoverished citizens living in Kenya's capital city.

Their relationship with Starkey began after Kelly awoke with sudden hearing loss in college.

"We got involved starting in 2005," Backes remembered. "We were both in college. Kelly woke up with sudden sensorineural hearing loss and she became a client of Starkey Hearing Technologies. When I became a professional athlete, through our contacts, we were invited to a Starkey Hearing Foundation Gala."

David and Kelly felt compelled to offer their full efforts by joining Starkey on their mission trip to Nairobi. The couple wanted to make a direct, in-person impact for a cause that is close to their hearts.

"After seeing the videos at the Starkey Gala, we had to experience first-hand what it was like to be on their missions and to see kids hear for the first time," Backes said. "The experience definitely did not disappoint."

Seeing children gain the gift of hearing was particularly meaningful to Kelly, considering her experience with sudden hearing loss. It was a powerful image for both David and Kelly to observe the joyful reactions of these young children. Once their hearing device was turned on, their eyes would immediately light up.

"Having felt some of their loss before, Kelly got a great delight," Backes said. "At the same time, I was just as enthralled to be giving the gift of hearing and helping these kids reconnect with their families. You watch their eyes really open and bring a great smile to their face. Hopefully, they can live a very normalized life after they can hear."

David and Kelly saw first-hand the conditions that poverty-stricken Kenyans were living in.

"Being in Nairobi, we were able to tour the biggest slum in Africa, Kibera, and see the conditions that a lot of people we were fitting were actually living in," Backes said. "To see how little they actually had and what kind of conditions they live in really made you appreciate everything that you have. It also makes you feel good about helping these people that really needed it. Without our help, they would continue to suffer, be disconnected from their family and be outcasts in their lives."

David was thankful the way he and Kelly were welcomed by the grateful, kind-hearted locals.

Mark McCarthy/Starkey Hearing Foundation
Kelly and David pose with some of the recpients of the mission's work.
"The people of Kenya were absolutely incredible," Backes remembered. "They're kind, they appreciate everything they have. They're glad to be working. It's great to see."

The Backeses have greatly appreciated their opportunities to volunteer alongside Starkey Hearing Technologies founder William F. Austin and wife Tani.

"He's such a philanthropic force," Backes said. "He's willing to help anyone and everyone he can. It's a great inspiration for my wife and I to see him and his wife Tani and all the work that they do. Hopefully we can make a small impact. They're proving that age is just a number. They're still going beyond 9-to-5 to do things that are creating good in this world. It's really inspirational."

In 1967, Austin founded Starkey Hearing Technologies. Austin would eventually grow the company into the United States' largest supplier of hearing solutions. Starkey now has manufacturing centers operating in 26 countries. The nonprofit Starkey Hearing Foundation delivers over 50,000 free hearing aids per year through their mission trips in American and across the world. The foundation has visited over 100 countries in their noble quest to deliver hearing to the needy.

Starkey's impact in Nairobi and all of their mission visits will continue to be sustainable due to the foundation's global reach.

"In the impoverished conditions that these kids are living in, even a simple Rayovac battery to power their hearing aids might not be in the budget," Backes explained. "Starkey has what's called aftercare. There are local partnerships with people who continue to provide hearing aid tuning, batteries donated by Rayovac, repairs or replacement. It's not just a drop these off and 'good luck to you later' type of thing. These people will continue to get the help that they need."

Click here to visit the Photo page to view more images from the hearing mission in Nairobi.

Kelly and David in front of a rhinoceros in the Maasi Mara National Reserve in Kenya.
The Backeses finished off their trip to Africa by visiting the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Narok County, Kenya and a relaxing visit to South Africa.

"The highlight of the vacation was for sure the mission," Backes said. "But seeing the migration at Maasai Mara was unbelievable. We got to see the great migration of about 15,000 wildebeest and zebras crossing the Mara River. We went to South Africa for a little vacation afterwards. It was a little more westernized, but we were welcomed by some great people who continue to thrive. You can see the way that their societies are connecting to the Western World. The whole trip was one thrill after another."

When the NHL's "free agent frenzy" got underway on July 1, Backes was able to follow all the action despite being over 8,000 miles from St. Louis.

"They had wireless internet in most places we went," Backes said. "I was following who was signing where."

Backes was hopeful that the Blues could complete the signing of prized free-agent center Paul Stastny.

"I had a little heads up from management that Paul Stastny was hopefully going to become a Blue," Backes said. "When I finally got to hear the news, I was pretty excited about it."

Backes and Stastny have competed against one another since their USHL days in Nebraska.

"My history with Paul goes back to junior hockey," Backes remembered. "When he was in Omaha, I was in Lincoln in the USHL playing against each other. He then went to the University of Denver and I went to Minnesota State Mankato. We continued to butt heads as his career took him to Colorado and I went to St. Louis."

Backes is excited to see the Blues add Stastny's renowned "hockey IQ" to a roster primed for a serious push for the Stanley Cup.

Getty Images
Future teammates, Backes and Stastny faceoff against one another.
"He's always been an honest, respectful, hard-nosed player," Backes said. "His hockey sense is off the charts. That's really what I'm most excited about. He gets the game, he knows how to win, he knows what plays to make and when – and all the skills to go with it."

The Blues' captain has developed a relationship with Stastny and his family for many years given Stastny's St. Louis roots and his history of competing against David in the USHL, WCHA and NHL. Together, Backes and Stastny have represented the United States at two Olympics, in 2010 and most recently at the 2014 Sochi Games.

"I got to know him a little bit better through him living in St. Louis and knowing him and his father," Backes said. "I played with his brother Yan and went through the Olympics with him as well. There's plenty of history there. Now we can team up for hopefully a great Stanley Cup run in St. Louis. I'm really excited to have that opportunity."

Blues fans will get their first chance to see Backes and Stastny together in game action on Sunday, September 21, when the Blues travel to Columbus for their preseason opener. The Blues return home to Scottrade Center for their first preseason home date on September 25 against the Blue Jackets.

For more information on the Starkey Hearing Foundation, please visit: http://www.starkeyhearingfoundation.org.