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Manager sews clear masks so hearing-impaired team member can stay connected

Being profoundly hearing impaired has never been an issue for Mission Hospital physical therapist Susan Stensby Adams.

As a lip reader with a cochlear implant, Adams, who has been hearing impaired since birth, was able to communicate with her patients in the Mission Viejo hospital’s Center for Rehab, Sports and Wellness.



But then the coronavirus hit, and patients and therapists started covering their faces with masks. Reading lips suddenly became virtually impossible for Adams.

“I was getting more and more stressed out,”  said Adams, a wife and mother. “I began to realize how vulnerable I am.

“When everybody wore masks,” she said, “I began to wonder if I’m ever going to work.”

Just when she thought she might be forced to take a leave of absence, Adams’ manager intervened.

“That was the day that I realized that we need to figure something out for her,” Michele Darrow, outpatient therapy manager, said.

Darrow looked into buying masks with a see-through panel, but they were on back order for months.

So Darrow got busy on her sewing machine, crafting a mask with a clear panel that would let Adams read people’s lips.

At first, the plan was to make masks only for Adams’ husband and daughter.

Then Darrow figured she would craft enough of the so-called communicator masks for the physical therapy staff, who surprised Adams by putting on the masks at the same time when she was not looking.

Working with local donors and suppliers, Darrow gathered the materials to make masks for the entire department and all of Adams’ current and future patients.

“I had a profound sense of gratitude because without Michele advocating for me, I wouldn’t be working,” said Adams, who has worked at Mission Hospital since 2005. “And it means so much to be able to work.

“I have my crew, meaning my team and friends,” she said. “They make my life so much easier. It would not be the same elsewhere. This is the place to be. I’ve been here since 2005, and I’m not going anywhere.”

Source: Orange County Register

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