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April 27, 2003

Years of silence led to woman's mission

From: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, FL - Apr 27, 2003

By Ethel Yari
Special Correspondent

Rosalie Orinstein relied on a hearing aid and led an accomplished and productive life after scarlet fever partially destroyed her hearing when she was 3.

But in 1975, she became profoundly deaf and lived in total silence for 15 long years. "It was really awful," said Orinstein, 72, who lives west of Boynton Beach.

Miraculously, after having a cochlear implant in 1990, Orinstein was able to hear again. Since then, she has devoted her energy to informing the public about cochlear implants and for years has presented seminars on coping with hearing loss.

On the first Sunday of every month, Orinstein conducts Cochlear Implant Support Group meetings at Boca Raton Community Hospital. By invitation, physicians and other guest speakers discuss subjects of interest to people who are hearing impaired.

Ellen Rhoades of Delray Beach, who has bilateral implants, one cochlear implant for each ear, will be the guest speaker at the May 4 meeting. Rhoades, 57, has more than 30 years experience as an auditory verbal therapist and trains and supervises therapists and families of hearing-impaired children.

"Rosalie is very active in keeping this chapter going," Rhoades said. "If it weren't for her, it wouldn't be going at all."

Karen and Todd Smith of Boca Raton consider themselves beneficiaries of Orinstein's mission. Both are profoundly deaf. They have twin daughters, age 7, who can hear.

"It's a challenge to raise hearing twins," said Karen Smith, 38. "It's been tough. My husband and I are thinking about having a cochlear implant, and she [Orinstein] told me about her implant and her experiences of hearing music, the phone and all the sounds she is able to hear. It's amazing.''

Sandra Jackson has a son, 5, who had an implant when he was 13 months old.

"I was so impressed with his hearing capabilities that last summer I was prompted to get one myself," said Jackson, 42, who lives west of Boca Raton. "I was nervous at first ... but Rosalie was able to explain to me what to expect.

"She speaks beautifully and with clarity ... She is a fantastic role model for all hard-of-hearing individuals."

Determined to succeed, Orinstein earned a bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degrees in social work and the psychology of deafness.

For almost 20 years as a psychotherapist, Orinstein counseled hearing-impaired children in the New York City school system and had a private practice. She married, raised a son and daughter, was a member of Toastmasters International for many years and enjoyed dancing.

Sheila Basse of Boca Raton recalled a 1975 conference in Rockland County, N.Y.

"I'll never forget it as long as I live," said Basse, 61, whose daughter is deaf. "Rosalie put it together and orchestrated it. She opened up the world for me. I learned how to cope with my daughter's deafness."

Orinstein has made presentations at universities, colleges, libraries, senior centers and other group settings since she moved to South Florida more than two years ago. She recently was the guest speaker at a Self-Help for Hard of Hearing meeting in Delray Beach.

But her interests are beyond hearing loss. "I love it, but sometimes I'd rather be dancing and telling stories," she said. "I decided to lighten up and have been giving classes on 'Discovering the Ancient Art of Storytelling' at Palm Beach Community College. It was fun and well-attended."

She is working with residents in her development to revive a theater group there.

Bea Fish of Boynton Beach met Orinstein on the tennis court.

"She was a newcomer to our community and had already made her way with ease," said Fish, 80. "I, too, have a cochlear implant and it has been a wonderful lifesaver, but I can't compete with Rosalie. She is a petite 5-footer with the strength and drive of a 6-footer. Despite her disability, she has managed to achieve in every way."

Copyright © 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel