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Eye Opening Experience

Posted by Debbie Inkley on October 11, 2009

August 2009 Newsletter

Posted by Debbie Inkley on August 1, 2009

Mirna's Story

Posted by Debbie Inkley on July 14, 2009


In 2005, Mirna Maria Guadalupe Ramos, who currently resides in Hue- huetenango, Guatemala suffered a devastating stroke during what would have been a routine medical procedure. As a result. her cerebral cortex was damaged making her completely paraplegic and lacking any motor skills. Since that time, she has been completely paralyzed and is only able to move her eyes.

A group of friends have been looking for any means and ways in which they might be able to improve her life condition, even if it is just marginally. As a result, they discovered the "Opportunity Foundation of America" (OFOA), a non-profit organization that manufactures and distributes an assistive technology called EagleEyes (www.eagleeyes.org). The technology was developed at Boston College and allows individuals with severe physical disabilities to move the mouse cursor with the simple movement of their eyes or other facial expressions. During the month of June, a collection was conducted by ADTRAN, my employer, in Huntsville, Alabama. The response was overwhelming, with $1,200.00 donated to OFOA for the cost of the EagleEyes system. A laptop and a flat screen monitor were also donated.

In July, we traveled to Guatemala. EagleEyes was set up and we began training Mirna's family on how to use the system. The family is hoping that the technology will represent a big improvement in the quality of Mirna's life since it would allow her to express her needs and perhaps most importantly, her emotions. It would likewise help to relieve her family of a great burden on trying to interpret what she is trying to say. The doctors tell us that she is fully conscious and can hear, smell and see. However, she has been inside a physical prison ever since that fateful day back in 2005 and is not able to communicate in any way with her family. Now, with the support of EagleEyes Mirna will have the opportunity to play simple games and learn how to communicate with her family and friends. We all know this is just the beginning of a journey together and that with love, patience and effort, we will see even greater results from our friend Mirna Ramos. She is a fighter and we all pray that with very hard work, one day she will be able to post a little note on this blog to express her emotions and feelings towards all of you that have blessed us all with your generosity and make this endeavor a reality. We will be updating Mirna's blog http:// mirna-ramos.blogspot.com as often as possible to keep you posted on her progress. May God bless you all!

Maggie's Story

Posted by Debbie Inkley on January 15, 2009


Two years ago, Margaret "Maggie" Worthen was about to start a new chapter in her life but not the one she envisioned.

Worthen was only a few days away from graduating Smith College in May 2006 when she was incapacitated by a stroke. In the two-and-a-half years that followed, her mother Nancy guided Maggie's rehabilitation and care, driven by a mother's instinct that inside a body rendered motionless lives the active mind of the young woman who once aspired to become a veterinarian.

Now, in the confines of Boston College's Campus School, Nancy Worthen is watching as her daughter communicates and plays games by using her left eye to move the cursor on a computer.

EagleEyes, an adaptive technology developed by Egan Professor of Computer Science James Gips, Assoc. Prof. Peter Olivieri (CSOM) and Assoc. Prof. Joseph Tecce (Psychology), has allowed Maggie to definitively communicate for the first time since she was stricken.

"There have been a few amazing moments since her stroke and the first day we came here and used EagleEyes was one of them," says Nancy Worthen, of Providence.

Nancy Worthen says her daughter's use of the technology gives her hope that Maggie can exercise her mind, master skills, play games and answer questions critical to her day-to-day care and comfort.

It is a long way from the days following the stroke, when one doctor advised Nancy Worthen to remove Maggie from life support systems. It's another step away from the diagnosis that Maggie was in a persistent vegetative state, indicating little or no brain activity. Instead, as researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College confirmed in February of 2008, Maggie may be in a state referred to as "locked in," her mother says.

Nancy Worthen contacted Gips in March and asked if Maggie could be evaluated using EagleEyes. The initial sessions showed promise and mother and daughter returned this past fall to train with the equipment once a week, with the help of Maureen Gates, an EagleEyes teacher.

For Gips, who pioneered the EagleEyes technology a decade ago, the Worthen story struck a nerve.

"I thought, 'This could be my child. This could be me. What can we do to help this person?'" Gips says. "I think that's the same reaction anybody would have."

EagleEyes allows nonverbal and paralyzed people to play games, type words and express feelings by using their eyes to move a computer cursor. Electrodes attached around the eye detect movements and move the computer cursor to the desired location – be it a "yes" and "no" icon or a space alien that needs to be zapped. For years, the technology has been in use in the Campus School, which provides special education services to severely disabled students sent by school districts throughout the Greater Boston area.

There are approximately 50 EagleEyes boxes, or consoles, in use by individuals, families, schools and institutions. A new version of the box is slated to be produced this month. The BC technology is licensed to the Opportunity Foundation of America of Salt Lake City and produced by Sanmina, a medical manufacturer. Gips plans to provide a box to the Worthens at no cost.

In November, the Worthens and Maureen Gates traveled to the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City for a consultation with Dr. Nicholas Schiff. A neurologist and pioneer in the use of new treatments for brain disorders and injuries, Schiff is researching diagnostic tools used to decide if a person is in a vegetative state or conscious. While Maggie completed tasks using EagleEyes, electronic impulses told Schiff and his staff that Maggie's brain was active and engaged, Nancy Worthen says. It was a landmark moment for Maggie, but also for EagleEyes, according to Gips.

"That was the first scientific validation using EEG to monitor people like Maggie while she used EagleEyes," said Gips.

Maggie works with therapists at the Middleboro Skilled Care Center in Middleboro, Mass., where she resides. There, she has worked closely with a speech therapist, learning how to communicate yes and no answers by moving her eyes. It is painstaking work and her answers must still be interpreted to some extent by the therapist, said Nancy Worthen.

Though unsure how far Maggie may continue to progress, each victory in her daughter's rehabilitation is cherished, says Nancy Worthen.

"The gifts Boston College has given Maggie have changed her life," says Nancy Worthen.

Ed Hayward can be contacted at ed.hayward(at)bc.edu.

May 2008 Newsletter

Posted by Debbie Inkley on May 1, 2008

September 2007 Newsletter

Posted by Debbie Inkley on September 1, 2007

October 2006 Newsletter

Posted by Debbie Inkley on October 1, 2006

BYU Receives New Technology for the Disabled

Posted by Debbie Inkley on July 19, 2006

January 2006 Newsletter

Posted by Debbie Inkley on January 1, 2006




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