Dec 212010

When Solange “Sally” Skyer’s husband, Richard, neared death, she called Lifetime Care to enroll in the agency’s home hospice program.

It wasn’t that simple. Sally is, and Richard was, deaf. Sally, an associate professor and counselor at the National Technical Institute for the Deaf at Rochester Institute of Technology, was born deaf. Richard, an analytical chromatography technician at Eastman Kodak Co., lost his hearing as a result of a rare hereditary disease, neurofibromatosis 2, which produces numerous typically non-malignant brain tumors that can be treated only with surgery.

In 2005, she says, Richard “made the decision not to have more surgery.” After 30 operations, he had had enough.

Both she and Richard were overwhelmed by the kindness and dedication of the social worker, nurse and home health aide, Rudy Homa. “He’s from Poland,” Sally says (she can speak). Sally and her husband could speech read, but neither could read Homa’s lips. On his second day, he returned with a sign-language book determined to learn the sign alphabet, which he did.

Homa and Richard, whose family had come from Poland, formed a special bond, Sally says, and became good friends. Her husband’s four months in hospice were difficult. Richard slowly lost the ability to communicate, grew weaker and stopped eating. At the end, she says, he could communicate only by squeezing her hand. But the Lifetime staff helped her understand what was happening and continued to help with a bereavement support group after Richard died — providing the interpreter who made her participation possible, just as they had earlier when Sally took a caregiver workshop. A hospice volunteer also became close to Richard as the two confided in each other their thoughts and fears about death and dying.

The experience inspired Sally to come back to Lifetime as a hospice volunteer, working with deaf patients and their families. Lifetime Care has four or five deaf hospice volunteers available, but few have requested their services, perhaps because people are unaware they are available.

– Written by Mark Hare, Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, 12/9/2010 and thanks to Brenda Estes, Endependence Center, 12/15/2010.