VB labor and delivery nurses sew special masks to help hearing-impaired first-time father

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Becoming a parent is a life-changing moment — but imagine not being able to communicate with medical staff because of a face mask.

That’s the reality for many in the hearing-impaired community amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A team of Virginia Beach nurses made one family’s experience inclusive for everyone.

People who are hearing-impaired may rely on reading lips to communicate, but a standard mask blocks their ability to do that.

The innovative staff at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital made sure a first-time father, who is deaf, didn’t miss a beat during his daughter’s birth.

Will and Jennifer McKendree said it’s a selfless gesture they’ll cherish forever.

“There’s no words for it. It’s just very special,” Will said.

The couple welcomed their first child at Sentara Princess Anne earlier this month. They arranged to have their cued speech transliterator in the delivery room to help with communication, but labor and delivery staff wanted to help, too.

“Lori said ‘I happen to have my sewing machine here today so if you have the material, I can see what I can do,’” said Reagan Boomer, SPAH Labor and Delivery Clinical Manager.

Using blue surgical paper and heavy-duty page protectors, staff went to work on creating a clear face mask. The finished product brought Will to tears.

“I did not have to ask them for a clear face mask. They did it on their own and that really touched me in the heart,” Will said. “I was not sitting on the sidelines waiting for my wife to tell me what the nurse said,” Will said.

After some fine-tuning and input from Will, nurses eventually sewed around 10 masks for staff to wear.

“We were just glad that we could help him have a better experience because that’s what we want,” said Lori Holleman, a clinical nurse specialist.

The couple said it’s a moment they’ll never forget.

“For these women to just realize they had an opportunity to step up and make him more comfortable, make us more comfortable in this process of giving birth to our child, was just super cool,” Jennifer said.

The clear face masks are now being distributed throughout the Sentara health care system in Virginia and North Carolina.

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