Hope for Deaf-Blind Triplets — Light in the Dark

For the parents of deaf-blind triplets, a modern-day miracle worker is their best hope.

By Kenneth Miller from Reader's Digest | February 2008

George, it turned out, was also a video producer, and he lived close by. Summoning her courage, Liz gave him a call. On their first date, he confessed that he’d never gotten over her, and Liz realized she felt the same. She waited a week before she revealed the truth about her daughters, dreading that it would drive him away. It didn’t. “I’d done nothing but serve myself for 32 years,” George says. “Liz coming back changed everything. I just jumped right in.”

They married a year later and moved to the tidy suburb of Spring, Texas. George, who’d been earning $120,000 a year, cut back radically on his business to devote time to his new family.

He and Liz both knew the story of Helen Keller, who lost her sight and hearing to disease as a toddler and at seven was as unreachable as the triplets. As recounted in the Oscar-winning film The Miracle Worker, her salvation arrived in the person of Annie Sullivan — a teacher who remained Keller’s live-in companion for five decades. Sullivan harnessed the sense of touch to reconnect her student to the world. She brought Keller into contact with every element of her environment, using tactile sign language (spelled onto the skin) to translate the experience into words. The feral girl soon began her transformation into an astonishingly gifted human being.

Today, specialists like Annie Sullivan are known as intervenors. But their numbers are scarce, and their training is often minimal. In the United States, most intervenors take a two-day seminar, then learn on the job. Usually contracted by school districts, they work in the classroom rather than at a student’s home.

That wasn’t good enough for Liz and George. In fall 2003, they visited the Perkins School for the Blind, near Boston, where Keller had studied. There they met deaf-blind students whose academic accomplishments and social skills amazed them. One senior confided that he’d been just like their daughters when he was younger. “We said, ‘Now that we know what’s possible, we can’t stand for any less,’” George recalls. But the annual tuition for the live-in program — $225,000 per student — wasn’t covered by insurance and was far beyond their means.

Back in Texas, Liz and George signed the triplets up for a passel of enriching extracurriculars: aquatic therapy, massage therapy, horseback riding. Then they set out to find an Annie Sullivan of their own.