Speaking out – with a little high-tech help
December 1, 2006
Lee Radtke’s PDA works like any other personal device, allowing him to look up numbers and surf the Internet.
But Lee’s also does something that most don’t: His PDA serves as his communication window to the world.
Lee lost his larynx in July to cancer and now uses a Servox artificial larynx and his PDA as his means of communication. Friday morning, Lee and his wife, MaryEllen, talked to Irene Waltz’s class at Fritsch Elementary School about how technology makes it possible for him to communicate.
“I’m very impressed with this age group. They ask good questions and are very interested in what I am talking about,” said Lee, who, along with his wife has volunteered in classrooms throughout the district for years.
Lee said he had a sore throat for about two months, went to the doctor and found out he had cancer of the larynx, one of a small minority of nonsmokers who are diagnosed.
Using his PDA, equipped with Say-it! Sam software, he can select more than 65,000 words and have them said aloud by one of seven voices with names like Ursela, Kip and Betty. Despite the PDA’s ability to surf the Internet and talk, it was Lee’s ability to order fast food that was the biggest hit of the day.
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When he needs to communicate more quickly he uses the Servox, which generates sound using vibrations on his throat. After his presentation, he allowed the students the opportunity to try to talk using the Servox.
First to try it was Zach Heinz, 11, who’s first words were “You are so awesome.”
Mekalynn Culbert, 11, was too nervous to get words out, so Lee asked her instead to laugh.
“It tickled. I didn’t know you were only supposed to use your mouth,” Culbert said.
Lee also talked about how his life is different not having a voice, including how he can’t whistle and has a hard time breathing during cold weather.
“How many holes do you have in your head, seven? I have you all beat, I’ve got eight,” Lee said. “I have a filter to keep the dust and dirt out of (the hole in my throat), plus it keeps the mosquitoes out.”
The technology class was Lee’s fourth visit with elementary students. His message about having a positive attitude and not smoking has stuck with the students.
“There was one girl who said she would never smoke because she didn’t want a hole in her throat. If I can keep one kid from starting, it was worth it,” Lee said.
Lee has had requests to speak from teachers in Dayton and several schools in California.
“We figured since we are retired, we can give back,” MaryEllen said. “It’s very satisfying, and we like the smiles.”
• Contact reporter Jarid Shipley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1217.