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May 13, 2003


From: Huntington Herald Dispatch, WV - May 13, 2003

St. Mary's adds technology to communicate with patients

By BOB WITHERS - The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON -- A patient shows up in the emergency room, obviously in pain.
You need to know where the pain is. And how severe it is. And a dozen other
things, so you can begin the proper treatment.

And then you learn the patient is deaf. What do you do now?

If you work at St. Mary's Medical Center, you call for Deaf-Talk.

Deaf-Talk, which uses videoconferencing technology, is a service that links
hearing-impaired patients with certified sign-language interpreters within

The unit includes a television, camera, microphone and the
telecommunications technology to link with a remote center where
interpreters are available 24 hours a day. The patient and the interpreter
see each other live as they communicate.

"This system is a godsend," says Kathy Tygart, the medical center's director
of staff development, who has a severely hearing-impaired 16-year-old son
herself. "I think it says a lot about the hospital to invest in a service
that is so valuable to the deaf community."

St. Mary's offers the service at no cost to the patient, says spokesman Dan

Deaf-Talk, which also offers up to 25 foreign languages around the clock, is
summoned via a telephone connected to the unit, and an interpreter is
guaranteed to come on the line -- and the television set -- within five
minutes. The health-care provider can ask the patient questions through the
on-screen interpreter, and the patient can answer in the same way.

Joey Trader, a clinical manager in St. Mary's emergency department, says the
mood has gotten particularly tense when a deaf couple comes in.

"We had to wait for an interpreter or use pencil and tablet, or the old
magic slate," he says. "It's very scary when they can't tell us what their
problem is."

Tygart says Deaf-Talk answers the problem of cost-efficiency in many smaller

"Most facilities don't have a person who is there just for sign language,"
she says. "You may not have the population to justify a full-time person to
do nothing but that. But it's important to have the service available when
it's needed."

Early help

Emily Grace Neal of Chesapeake, Ohio, may receive her cochlear implant in
June -- about a month after her first birthday.

Cochlear implants, which transforms sounds into coded signals that stimulate
the nerve fibers in the inner ear's snail-shaped cochlea, have been in use
nearly 20 years; they've been available to children since 1996. The U.S.
Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health approved
them four years ago for toddlers between 12 and 18 months old.

Emily Grace is "profoundly deaf," say Lewis and Shelley Neal, her parents.
She has worn hearing aids since she was 5 months old, but they help very
little, her mother says.

"She can hear herself, and she can hear me when I clap my hands," Shelley
Neal says. "And she understands the signs for 'eat,' 'drink,' 'no' and
'more,' " but she hasn't actually signed any herself."

Life will be different, sure enough, after Emily Grace receives her implant.
But one thing, her parents are certain, will not change.

"She knows love," Shelley Neal says.

On the Web

Deaf-Talk -

To find out more about children's
hearing problems, visit

To learn more about local
hospitals and medical centers
communicate with
hearing-impaired patients, visit:,,,, and

Copyright © 2003 The Herald-Dispatch