Center Snapshot: Meghan Guethe
Image above: Two-year-old Katherine and her mom, Meghan Guethe, who works in the Strategic Relationships Office as an exhibits manager. "She is my everything," Guethe said.
By: Denise Lineberry
Advancement in technology can dramatically change a person’s life. For Meghan Guethe, it meant that her 2-year-old daughter, Katherine, would have the chance to hear.
When Guethe was pregnant, she pictured Katherine growing up and dreamt of countless possibilities. One hope was that her mother-in-law could teach Katherine to play piano.
In late 2009, Guethe began to fear that vision may never play out when she and husband Brandon learned that Katherine was officially diagnosed as deaf.
"We had no experience at all with deafness," Guethe said. But a team of speech therapists, surgeons and clinical workers from the Children's Hospital of the King’s Daughter's (CHKD) helped them through their new journey.
"We had already learned a few signs in sign language at home, but we ramped up her lessons, teaching her around 100 words and phrases," Guethe said. "We went to countless day-long counseling sessions, sound booth testing, medical tests, speech therapy sessions, cochlear implant workshops and family events for the hearing impaired to just absolutely immerse ourselves in this strange, new world.
"We had to figure out the best path for our daughter."
After a hearing aid trial, they decided on the double cochlear implant surgery for Katherine.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as of April 2009, approximately 188,000 people have received cochlear implants. Recent medical guidance recommended double implants to maximize hearing ability.
Guethe was thankful for the opportunity, but she worried about the process. As an exhibits manager at NASA Langley, she would sometimes cry on her way to and from the office during the month leading up to Katherine’s surgery. The stress was overwhelming at times for her and Brandon, who works in Langley’s technical library.
"I truly could not have survived this stress without my co-workers rallying around me, giving me words of support and helping to cover the workload while I was out," Guethe said.
In April 2010, Katherine began her recovery from a successful seven-hour surgery. They relocated from the CHKD to the Ronald McDonald House for a two-day session that involved turning on her implants.
"We were told that when hearing sound for the first time some kids cry, some laugh, some don't seem to react at all at first; we were warned not to be too optimistic about the results," Meghan said. At the hospital, Katherine did not have much of a reaction.
When they arrived at the Ronald McDonald House, they went upstairs to their room to call their family when Brandon noticed Katherine pointing to the floor.
" 'I think she hears that piano playing downstairs,' my husband said. Impossible, I thought. But I decided to check it out," Meghan said. And so they followed the direction of Katherine's point and headed downstairs.
Katherine walked away from her mother and to her surprise, went directly toward a teenage boy who was playing the piano.
"She pointed to him and then signed, 'piano,' " Guethe recalled.
"Amazed, and with tears in my eyes, I signed it back to her and said, 'Yes, piano!' "
The teenager was playing "Lean on Me."
Her dream of having her mother-in-law teach Katherine how to play piano had returned. Their journey isn’t over, but the possibilities continue to grow with every leap and bound that Katherine makes.
Since being hired at NASA Langley in 1990 through the Stay-In-School program, which allowed her flexible working hours to finish college, Guethe has realized the importance of support from her friends, family and co-workers. In 1999, she lost both of her parents in a car accident.
From her experiences, she has learned not to take the people who surround and support her for granted. And she enjoys supporting the center and the agency through her work.
"There is not a day that goes by that I am not honestly amazed by the work that the engineers, researchers and scientists do out here," she said. "I am on the front lines of public outreach, and that means talking to the taxpayers and teaching them about all of the great things technology can accomplish."
In recent weeks, Guethe has been busy organizing artifacts, displays, exhibits and interactive activities requested by hundreds of employees for use during Langley’s first “Day of Education,” which takes place on Friday and will continue until every classroom request has been filled.
And at the end of each workday, Guethe returns to Katherine and tells her how much she loves her.
And she patiently awaits hearing those words in return.