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December 8, 2004

Answering A Silent Calling

From: Lexington Herald Leader - Lexington,KY,USA - Dec 8, 2004

Although deaf, woman pursues her dream to be a nurse

By Margaret Gabriel

So much about nursing depends on being able to hear -- the piercing beep of a monitor, a cry for help or yelp of pain, an urgent order from a doctor.

So it's no wonder that a college friend of Tiffany Hannah, who has been deaf since birth, doubted Hannah could pursue the profession.

"She said, 'You can't be a nurse,' and she was deaf, too," Hannah recalled with disbelief.

But Hannah proved she was up for the challenge.

On Friday, Hannah will graduate from Central Kentucky Technical College, where she has studied for a year and a half to become a licensed practical nurse.

She is the mother of a 4 year-old son who is not deaf but is fluent in sign language.

Four days a week, Hannah has attended classes. On Wednesdays, she and her classmates have hands-on training with patients at Samaritan Hospital.

Hannah is able to attend regular classes with the help of an interpreter, Tammy Parks, who uses American Sign Language to translate lessons from instructors and relays Hannah's comments to the teachers.

Finding company in the field

In 1992, Hannah was attending Gallaudet University, a liberal arts university for deaf students in Washington, when she told a friend that she wanted to become a nurse.

But later, instead of going to nursing school, Hannah moved to Kentucky and took factory jobs.

"But my son changed my life," Hannah said. "I wanted him to see me go to college and get a good job. I thought I might like to go into education, but I evaluated my heart and discovered that I still had a passion for nursing."

Despite the discouragement from her friend years earlier, Hannah decided to follow that passion.

After she graduates this week, she plans to get a part-time job as an LPN and to continue her studies, at Lexington Community College, to become a registered nurse.

During her training, Hannah was encouraged when she discovered that other deaf people, through the Association of Medical Professionals with Hearing Losses, or AMPHL, were pursuing their passion to provide health care as well.

She recently attended the association's conference in Dayton, Ohio. In addition to meeting doctors and nurses from around the country, Hannah attended lectures and gained information about adaptive equipment, such as stethoscopes with the power to amplify sound for people who are hard of hearing.

"But those aren't for me -- I'm profoundly deaf," Hannah said, although she hears well enough with her hearing aid to discern the "beep" of a monitor. "And I'm good at lip reading."

Stacey Cordwell Carroll, a deaf nurse who is also the-AMPHL advocacy committee chairperson, said at least 22 deaf nurses are part of the organization.

New medical equipment, like the stethoscopes and visual monitoring equipment, and medical advances such as cochlear implants are making it possible for more deaf people to enter the medical field, Carroll said.

Possibilities ahead

When Hannah meets patients, she says she puts them at ease by showing a positive attitude and making eye contact.

"I tell them I'm deaf and that I have an interpreter and the three of us are going to work together," she said. "They accept my appearance, and I make them feel comfortable."

Hannah says that after graduation, the Americans With Disabilities Act will ensure that she will continue to have the services of an interpreter.

Parks has been Hannah's interpreter throughout her nursing training. Parks has a high level of certification with the National Association of the Deaf, which allows her to interpret in a medical environment.

In interpreting her sign language, Parks voices inflection based on Hannah's body language. She not only communicates the words Hannah says but also the context in which she says them. Hannah hopes that Parks will continue to interpret for her during her nursing training at Lexington Community College.

Anna Jones, one of Hannah's instructors, said that Hannah is a conscientious and deliberate student and that she has encouraged Hannah to continue her nursing education. Jones has made adjustments in her teaching style to accommodate Hannah's disability.

"She sits in the front of the room, and I try to slow down when I talk," Jones said. "When I ask a question, I make sure that that she's received the question (from her interpreter) before I take answers."

Hannah's classmates have been wonderful, Jones said.

"These people take care of each other," she said. "It's been a good challenge to have her, and we'll miss her when she graduates."

As she continues in nursing, Hannah looks forward to being an advocate for deaf patients or possibly working as a nurse at a school for the deaf, teaching deaf children about health and health issues.

"I have persistence, possibilities, potential and patience," Hannah said. "I don't want my deafness to block my way. This is who I am, and I want to be a nurse. Reach Margaret Gabriel at (859) 277-1225 or Margaret_Gabriel@

© 2004 Lexington Herald-Leader and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.