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October 11, 2003

Susan Tabata, conquered many health obstacles

From: San Jose Mercury News, CA - Oct 11, 2003


By Betty Barnacle
Mercury News

Susan Tabata was pleasant but persistent and finally taught her reluctant friend, Marilen Vega, how to use a computer.

Since Ms. Tabata was deaf, mute and, because of cerebral palsy, also increasingly limited in her mobility, she had to do her teaching on the keyboard the way she always used it -- with her left foot. She spelled out words with the same foot on a board placed on the floor.

Vega, who became proficient on the computer, is a program manager at HOPE Services in San Jose. For nine years she worked with Ms. Tabata, whose memorial service will be today. She died Aug. 15 of a heart attack at age 49.

``It's amazing really,'' said her mother, Janet Tabata. ``Most people with cerebral palsy live to 20 or 25.''

Those afflicted regress as the years go by, Vega said, and by the time Ms. Tabata was 23 she could no longer do the needlework her mother taught her. But she had graduated with honors from the Chandler Tripp School in San Jose, where she showed some friends how to communicate with her through sign language, and was working a 40-hour week at HOPE Services, where she took part in several programs.

When she was interviewed in 1977 for a Mercury News story that honored her as a community ``doer'' who helped others, her hands were severely affected by the palsy. Yet she was able to stuff envelopes, bag small electric parts and knit baby blankets and scarfs by using a special knitting appliance.

Several such aids were created by her late father, Flyer Tabata, who operated three Flyer's body shops in the valley bearing his name and was selected as a member of the San Jose Speedway Hall of Fame for sponsoring several well-known drivers.

Flyer Tabata made a wire device that attached to the tip of his daughter's shoe so she could type on the computer. He also made a contraption that enabled her to pull the handle of slot machines in Reno, one of her great delights.

Ms. Tabata was born prematurely in Hollister with the aid of forceps, her mother said, and was deaf and mute from birth. But she once played and ran like other children.

``She never cried about not being able to do what she once did,'' said Vega. ``She always made do and was a wonderful, hard-working, caring person with a very happy disposition. There wasn't anybody who met her who wouldn't fall in love with Susan.''

Susan Tabata

Born: Jan. 18, 1954, in Hollister

Died: Aug. 15, 2003, in San Jose

Survived by: Mother, Janet Tabata, of San Jose; several aunts and cousins.

Services:10 a.m. today at the Chapel of Roses at Oak Hill Funeral Home, 300 Curtner Ave., San Jose.

Memorial: Donations may be made in Ms. Tabata's name to HOPE Services, 4351 Lafayette St., Santa Clara, Calif. 95054.

© 2003 Mercury News and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.