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Briskly walking on the treadmill in LDS Hospital's Fitness Institute is a happy-go-lucky woman whose accent tells of her Brooklyn upbringing.

Thelma Field slows her pace only slightly to wish other patients and passers-by a warm hello by wrapping her fingers gently around their hands."Let me feel your ring," she says. It's the way she tells who's who.

The 61-year-old patient, who suffered a heart attack a month ago, is also blind and deaf.

Retinitis pigmentosa dimmed Field's sight. Usher's syndrome caused the hearing loss that has gotten progressively worse over the years. Today she's 98 percent deaf, 98 percent blind.

But not everyone sees her as handicapped.

Hospital officials say that Field, who can speak clearly, is an inspiration for other rehabilitation patients. She's also a strong advocate for all people with physical imperfections.

"No matter if you are deaf, blind, crippled or whatever, it's not a handicap if you have (and are treated with) patience," said Field, fidgeting with gold chains that drape her neck. Her favorite bears a charm that reads: "My Special Friend" - given to her by companions at a New York blind center.

"Patience, love and understanding are all that's needed to help a person feel important and that they are not from Mars," she said. "They are right here from this beautiful earth - and they are appreciated."

It's a message that Thelma and her husband, Morris, who is also deaf, believe needs to be amplified in Utah.

"It's been their experience moving here from Brooklyn that people are not aware of the needs and wants of handicapped people, and that if given the opportunity, they could do a lot more than they are allowed to do," said Ira N. Field, the couple's son.

"They feel it would be much better if the community reached out and helped these people because they could make a great contribution to the community," he said. "Given the chance and opportunity, they can perform as well - if not better than a lot of normal people."

Ira Field, a structural engineer, believes that deaf and blind people are only limited by the way society perceives them.

His parents, particularly his father, he said, has been greatly limited since moving to Utah six months ago to be with their only child and his family.

But Morris Field, a highly respected, successful designer in Manhattan's garment district, has been unable to find work.

Ira Field admits part of the problem is his father's age: 72. As well, Salt Lake doesn't really have a manufacturing district; the profession has become a lost art, with human hands being replaced by computers.

But Ira believes it's deafness that has kept the spry businessman out of the work force.

"I've told people that he will work for free," Ira Field said."But people sweep him under the rug as a deaf man who can't do the job. They don't realize he can be as valuable as we make him out to be."

Morris Field is returning to New York for what he terms "a visit." But Ira and Thelma fear he'll stay - to work, regain his self-esteem.

"In New York they fight for equality between deaf and normal people. Here, father doesn't see that," Ira said.

Thelma Field, anxiously awaiting the birth of her grandchild, will remain in Salt Lake and continue her therapy at LDS Hospital.

There Michelle Eccles, who oversees the outpatient cardiac rehab unit, "signs" medical instructions and loving encouragement in Thelma's hand.

In return, Thelma Field vocalizes this message to the community she now calls "home": "Deaf and blind people perceive themselves as not having a handicap more than society perceives them as having a handicap.

"Give us a chance to prove our ability. We are people. We are humans just like anyone else," is her plea.


(Additional information)

A heartfelt thank-you

To thank Thelma Field for "being an inspiration to all of us," the employees of LDS Hospital are raising funds to purchase the cardiac patient a treadmill.

"She can't take a brisk walk, so the treadmill will enable her to continue her rehabilitation efforts," said Michelle Eccles, who oversees the outpatient cardiac rehabilitation unit.

People who want to make the surprise gift possible may send contributions to Eccles at the hospital's Fitness Institute.

Employees hope to raise between $1,200 and $1,500.