Internet based interpreting service saved a man’s life

SignTranslate On-Line Sign Language InterpretingIf we needed any further proof of how important the internet has become, this is it…

Deaf patient Bartholomew Kelley usually asked his daughter to interpret on any visits to the Doctors. But he suddenly became ill while his daughter was away on holiday and he knew he couldn’t put off going to see his GP. He was suffering from chest pains.

When he turned up at his surgery without an appointment, Dr Shaikh of the Peel Precinct Surgery in Carlton Vale London used an online sign language service to diagnose a serious heart condition.

Bartholomew is profoundly deaf and his first language is British Sign Language [BSL]. Luckily for Bartholomew, Dr Shaikh had very recently set up his surgery to use an on-line interpreting service, SignTranslate, which uses a simple webcam to link with a live qualified BSL interpreter. The Doctor speaks to the interpreter on the phone, and the interpreter and Deaf patient sign the conversation.

Dr Shaikh said “It was brilliant. As soon as Bartholomew started telling me through the interpreter about his symptoms I realised that his chest pains were serious. I called an ambulance and got him into hospital”. The whole process took less than 10 minutes.

The translation service, SignTranslate, is owned by healthcare charity for the Deaf, SignHealth. SignHealth is a UK charity focused on improving the mental and physical health of Deaf people.

Chief Executive of SignHealth, Steve Powell, said that Bartholomew’s situation was not a unique one;

“Every day a Deaf person will attend a health consultation with no interpreter, often relying on family or friends to communicate a diagnosis or treatment. We know that inadequate communication presents a risk to a Deaf patient and we also know that interpreters are rarely available for same day or urgent appointments. Bartholomew was lucky that his GP had an on-line solution to hand.”

All surgeries in the country already have access to the service, free of charge; they just pay a small charge for the online minutes used.

The only technology needed to use the service is broadband internet and a webcam, so it is extremely accessible for anyone with a computer.

If you would like to find out more about SignHealth or their brilliant translation service SignTranslate, please visit or


Silence of the Lamb – EastEnders actor on his battle with hearing loss

An act of kindess publicising the plight of some of the world’s poorest children has led to popular TV actor Larry Lamb loosing his ability to hear in one ear.

The EastEnders and Gavin and Stacy star was in Senegal for a week with a charity but stopped taking his malaria pills on his return because he felt fine, despite being medically advised he should take them for a further eight days.  Three days after his return he developed an unexplained fever thought to be malaria.















Larry Lamb


Larry was seriously ill for several weeks and at one point thought he was going to die.  He had to be hospitalised and put on a drip. Halfway through his illness, he started to notice whining noises in his right ear and was referred to an ear, nose and throat specialist.

The specialist diagnosed an infection of the cochlear nerve in the inner ear, which affected his hearing so badly that he is now completely deaf in his right ear.

“Losing my hearing hs been a nightmare and a real shock to the system, a classic case of not appreciating what you have until it’s gone.  I have gone from having good hearing in both ears to only having no hearing in one ear practically overnight, it has been very frustrating.  To add to that I was getting a horribly staiffback and neck from constantly leaning to try to hear people.  As an actor, hearing is so important, so rehearsing and filming was beginning toget very difficult indeed.”

Larry, father of DJ George Lamb, says he now appreciates how isolating it is for people with hearing loss.

“If I am sitting with two or three friends it is almost impossible for me to follow the conversation, ” he says.

Afte a few weeks Larry sought the help of hearing aid audiocologist Mark Edgar, at Specsavers in Edgware Road, London.  Mark confirmed that the malaria Larry had contracted had damaged a large number of hair cells in his inner ear – these are the ones that send electrical signals to the cochlear nerve.  The result is similar to age-related hearing loss but much more sudden and profound and means Larry can’t hear higher frequencies, especially women and children’s voices, and most consonants.

Everyone’s hearing will deteriorate at some stage – with age the hair cells in the inner ear lose their efficiency, affecting what we hear.  Larry had started to lose his hearing before his trip to Senegal but unfortunately contracting malaria led to an acceleration of this natural process.

This type of sudden loss is quite unsual and the infection that Larry contrcted damaged his hearing so much that he has been left with permenant damage and complete loss of hearing in his right ear.  Unfortunately, the ears work together and unless both are working perfectly it can be difficult to hear over background noise as one ear works to drown out the background while the other works to pick up the sound you want to hear.

Larry’s sense of localisation – where a sound is coming from – is also impaired, making crossing the road potentially dangerous, explains Mark Edgar of Specsavers.

Colin has since fitted Larry with a state-of-the-art CROS System hearing aid.  This is very discreet, the size of a jelly bean, and sends the sounds he should be hearing in his right ear via “Bluetooth” technology to a device worn in his left ear.

“This haring aid has made a huge difference to my life and its an enormous relief to be able to hear again.  I can’t belive how discreet it is, so much so that people around me don’t realise I’m wearing a hearing aid and I even forget its there.

“I am so grateful to Specsavers for giving me back my hearing and I would certainly advise everyone to have regular hearing tests, after all, they are free so what’s stopping you?”

Actress Stephanie Beacham campaigns for hearing loss “stars”


London: Actress Stephanie Beacham has launched a new award to highlight the achievements of those who are deaf and partially deaf.

And at the first ceremony of the Sound Barrier Awards, sponsored by UK company Specsavers and Hearing Dogs for Deaf People people from across the UK were congratulated for their achievements.

Stephanie, who is partially deaf in one ear, and has gone on to have a successful acting career including roles in blockbusters such as Dynasty, said that deafness was not a disability but a frustration which it is possible to overcome.

Sixty-six Adam Wilson rom East Grinstead, Surrey is named the Sound Barrier Star of the Year 2009. He is pictured with his hearing dog Baxter and Stephanie.

The national competition run by Specsavers hearing centres in association with Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, recognises achievement in the deaf or hard of hearing. Mr Wilson, 66 lost his hearing due to osteosclerosis at the age of 32. Losing his hearing affected him deeply and he became reclusive and felt isolated.

Says Mr Wilson: ‘I went through a really low point. I could have given in but I picked myself up and decided to face my hearing loss head on.’

Adam now gives regular talks about hearing loss in support of charity Hearing Dogs for Deaf People. It was after giving a talk to the Crawley Air Cadets that the young people he spoke to decided to nominate him for a Sound Barrier Star Award.

Actress Stephanie Beacham presented Mr Wilson with his award at the ceremony in London on Thursday 17 September. She says: ‘Adam is a thoroughly deserving winner. His story is a perfect example of why we set up the awards up in the first place and it was a real delight to meet him.’

Mr Wilson says: ‘I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to do more in raising deaf awareness – this is really what this is all about. Teenagers get such a bad press and it is a lovely feeling to have got through to them.’

The award Mr Wilson received also included a prize of a luxury two-week all-inclusive cruise from Phoenix Holidays, the UK’s leading river cruise specialist, and £1,500 in vouchers from Specsavers.

Air Cadets CO Helen Dudley says: ‘The children were so moved by Adam’s story. He is a remarkably brave individual and an excellent role model.’

Mr Wilson has also written a book in aid of Hearing Dogs for Deaf People in which his hearing dog Baxter tells stories. He has sold hundreds of copies and aims to make up to £5,000 for the charity.

Mr Wilson continues: ‘Specsavers has been fantastic in raising awareness of the challenges people face with hearing loss. I remember one incident before I got Baxter. When a fire alarm went off at a hotel I was in, I couldn’t hear it and only woke up by the flashing lights of the fire engine.’

Mr Wilson attended the grand final with four other national finalists (pictured) from across the UK. They were interviewed by judges Stephanie Beacham, Julie Perkins from Specsavers, Judy Cogan and Jenny Smith from Hearing Dogs for Deaf People.

Specsavers donated £5 to Hearing Dogs for Deaf People for every entry. Hearing dogs help transform the lives of their deaf owners by alerting them to sounds that those with good hearing take for granted, allowing them greater independence, confidence and security.


Gene therapy may offer cure for deafness

London: Research published this week in the journal Nature gives millions of deaf and hard of hearing people new hope of new gene or drug treatments for deafness and has been welcomed as a significant breakthrough by the country’s only medical research charity for deaf people, Deafness Research UK.

Deafness Research UK Research Advisory Panel member, Professor Guy Richardson, praised the work as “a technical tour de force, and very convincing proof of the principle that gene therapy could, at least in certain cases, be used to cure deafness”.

There are nine million deaf and hard of hearing people in the UK and in most cases deafness results from loss of sensory cells in the inner ear known as “hair” cells. The cells can be damaged and lost through ageing, noise, genetic defects and certain drugs and, because the cells don’t regenerate, the result is progressive – and irreversible – hearing loss. Damage to these cells can also lead to tinnitus which affects around 5 million people in the UK.

The latest research, by a team at the Oregon Health & Science University, shows that a key gene known as Atoh1 (also known as Math1) can not only cause cells to develop into hair cells but that these cells function like normal hair cells.

Vivienne Michael, Chief Executive of Deafness Research UK said: “This is an important and exciting step along the road towards an effective medical treatment for deafness. Deafness Research UK has a long history of supporting research into the repair and regeneration of the sensory cells in the inner ear, including work on the Atoh1 gene and on the use of stem cells to restore hearing. We will continue to work towards getting a cure for unwanted deafness into the clinic.”

John Brigande, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology at the Oregon Hearing Research Center in the OHSU School of Medicine said “Our work shows that it is possible to produce functional auditory hair cells in the mammalian cochlea.”

Brigande and colleagues were able to produce hair cells by transferring a key gene called Atoh1 (also known as Math-1) into ‘progenitor’ cells in the inner ear of developing mice. This type of cell becomes specialised to perform different functions during development, according to the instructions they receive from genes. The gene Atoh1 is known to turn progenitor cells into hair cells, but it was not previously known whether the hair cells would work normally if Atoh1 was introduced artificially.

To find out, the team inserted Atoh1 into progenitor cells along with a fluorescent protein molecule that is often used in research as a marker, to make cells easily visible. They were then able to see that the gene transfer technique resulted in mice being born with more hair cells in the cochlea than are normally found.

Crucially, Dr. Anthony Ricci, Associate Professor of Otolaryngology at the Stanford University School of Medicine, demonstrated that the gene-treated hair cells function like ordinary hair cells.

Stem cells are a type of progenitor and so can be instructed by genes to become a specific cell-type. One obstacle in the way of stem cell research has been ethical objection to the use of embryonic stem cells. However, researchers at Sheffield University supported by Deafness Research UK are currently working on extracting stem cells from the bone marrow and blood that are found in the umbilical cord, with the aim of turning them into hair cells that could be inserted into the cochlea. The umbilical cells are in rich supply and avoid the ethical issues surrounding the embryonic cells.

About Deafness Research UK

” Deafness Research UK is the country’s only charity dedicated to finding new cures, treatments and technologies for deaf, hard of hearing and other hearing impaired people.
” The charity supports high quality medical research into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of all forms of hearing impairment including tinnitus.
” The Deafness Research UK Information Service provides free information and advice based on the latest scientific evidence and informed by leading experts. The Information Service can be contacted on Freephone 0808 808 2222
” For more information on research into deafness, tinnitus and other hearing conditions, log on to the website at you can access a wide range of information. Alternatively you can e-mail Deafness Research UK at

” One in seven people in the UK – almost nine million people – suffer hearing loss.
” Deafness Research UK was founded in 1985 by Lord (Jack) and Lady Ashley of Stoke.
” In January 2008, Action for Tinnitus Research (ATR) was linked with

Deafness Research UK under a uniting direction order under Section 96 (6) of the Charities Act 1993.