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December 23, 2004

Virtual Clauses

From: Greenville Daily Reflector - Greenville,NC,USA - Dec 23, 2004

By Kelly Soderlund, The Daily Reflector

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A small portion of the Brody School of Medicine at ECU was transformed into the North Pole on Wednesday to accommodate a videoconference for children at two regional facilities.

East Carolina University's Telemedicine Center recruited Wayne and Betty Pollard to play the part of Santa and Mrs. Claus.

The pair communicated with students at the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson and young patients at Duplin General Hospital in Kenansville through cameras stationed at both sites.

Parties on each end of the transmission could see the other via television monitors, and a nurse at the Wilson site translated between speech and sign language.

One young boy in Wilson laughed and covered his mouth as if in disbelief when he saw Santa and Mrs. Claus.

"Have you been a good boy now?" Santa asked as the nurse signed.

The boy nodded and signed that he would like a Spiderman toy. After Santa promised the toy, the boy made the sign for "thank you."

The Telemedicine Center is most often used for distance learning and long-distance, doctor-patient consultations.

Dr. Robert Hoyer, medical director for Pitt County Memorial Hospital's Outpatient Center and pediatrician for the students at the Eastern N.C. School for the Deaf, is on call every day to attend to the students through the television monitors.

"About 40 percent of the children have another medical handicap or problem besides deafness," Hoyer said.

A nurse points a video otoscope in a child's ear, and the device transmits a video image to a screen in Greenville. A stethoscope attached to a microphone also allows Hoyer to monitor patients.

The school serves 130 students, and Hoyer said he sees up to 10 children a day through the Telemedicine Center.

"I used to do it just driving there two half-days a week, but as soon as I'd leave, somebody would be sick," Hoyer said.

Hoyer does not know sign language and must communicate with his deaf patients through the nurses who do.

"All of the nurses sign beautifully," Hoyer said.

He tried to learn the language the first year and a half that he worked with deaf children, but gave it up.

"I realized that I could speak a fair amount," Hoyer said. "I couldn't understand anything."

The children like seeing Hoyer via television rather than in person.

"It's more fun," Hoyer said. "They get a boost out of feeling even more the center of attention."

Hoyer also prefers working through the Telemedicine Center over commuting to Wilson several times a week.

"Being able to see them when they need to be seen, when they want to be seen, all of those convenience issues, availability issues, make it easier," Hoyer said.

Kelly Soderlund can be contacted at 329-9568 or

© 2004 Cox Newspapers, Inc. - The Daily Reflector