(CBS)-Many parents-to-be are anxious about welcoming newborns during the coronavirus pandemic, but Will and Jennifer McKendree were especially worried about whether he could fully be a part of his daughter’s birth. Will McKendree is deaf, and he reads lips and takes cues from hand and mouth movements to communicate. With all hospital staff members wearing face masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19, McKendree had no way of understanding them.
“I couldn’t hear,” McKendree told CBS affiliate WTKR during an interview conducted via video conference. “They were talking; couldn’t hear anything.”
The staff members at Sentara Princess Anne Hospital in Virginia Beach didn’t want McKendree to feel left out during his daughter’s birth on April 10. “Basic communication and getting to know our patients and bond with patients, we felt like giving another avenue where he could be part of the conversation was really important,” nurse manager Reagan Boomer told WTKR.
Within an hour of the McKendrees arriving at the hospital, nurses got to work creating a new face mask prototype. “This may sound weird, but I just happened to have my sewing machine at work,” nurse specialist Lori Holleman said.
Holleman used heavy-duty clear plastic page protectors to create see-through panels in the face masks, allowing McKendree to read staff members’ lips while his wife Jennifer gave birth.
When the staff showed him their special masks, he was brought to tears. “I just started crying. It was very emotional,” he said. “Not many deaf people can have this type of experience with others thinking about us and our access to be able to communicate.”
McKendree was able to see what the staff was saying during the birth of the couple’s daughter, Cooper Lynn.
“It was just really special for him and for us that they took the time as nurses and medical professionals that are risking their lives in this pandemic to just take it a step further and work together as a team,” Jennifer McKendree said.
The staff went above and beyond for the McKendrees, but Paige Crunk, Sentara Princess Anne Hospital’s director of women’s health, said it was their pleasure. “They were a joy. They were a joy to take care of, a joy to work with. They were so appreciative. We are the lucky ones.”
Now the special see-through masks are being distributed throughout all Sentara facilities.
First published on April 28, 2020 / 10:27 AM