Academy Award-winning actress Marlee Matlin was in Memphis Thursday, April 19, to discuss overcoming disabilities.
Her appearance was at a fundraiser for Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU), held at the Hilton Memphis, 939 Ridge Lake Blvd.
Matlin, who lost her hearing when she was 18 months old, became the youngest actress and the only deaf performer to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role for her screen debut in “Children of a Lesser God.” Her numerous television appearances include “Seinfeld,” “The L Word,” “The West Wing,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Sesame Street,” “Celebrity Apprentice” and “Dancing with the Stars.”
The mother of four children shared her story of overcoming her disability to fulfill her dreams of becoming an actress, as well as the importance of having a facility like Baptist’s NICU – which turns 40 this year – where many of the babies cared for are born with disabilities, including deafness.
“I’m amazed at their dedication to taking care of babies and certainly those who are in precarious situations,” Matlin said, through her sign language interpreter Jack Jason. “I applaud their dedication to work – the staff, the doctors, the nurses and everyone associated with the NICU unit at Baptist Memorial Health Care – knowing that any baby that’s born premature in the Memphis area will have nothing but the best of care.”
Matlin also met with several children who were cared for at the hospital as babies.
“They were truly adorable, and some of them actually were deaf and had hearing loss,” Matlin said. “I found that the opportunity to talk to them was important. They certainly have different types of deafness and there were different tools used to deal with the situation. Some of them had cochlear implants. I don’t have cochlear implants, but it doesn’t matter what we have or don’t have. It’s just an opportunity to see the kids, and let them know they’ll grow up to be fine people, and that’s why I was glad to be here.”
Matlin’s appearance was part of Baptist Memorial Health Care Corp.’s yearlong centennial celebration, which kicked off late last year with a fundraiser for Baptist’s new comprehensive cancer care center featuring legendary recording artist Patti LaBelle.
“Matlin understands first-hand what many of our NICU babies are facing – overcoming a lifetime of health obstacles, such as deafness,” said Stephen Reynolds, Baptist Memorial Health Care president and CEO.
Baptist’s centennial tagline is “Well Beyond a Century.”
A total of $50,000 was raised from Thursday’s luncheon, and all proceeds will go toward the purchase of panda warmers, costly but vital machines commonly used in the NICU to keep small babies warm shortly after delivery. Each panda warmer costs about $15,000.
The 40-bed NICU at Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women – the only free-standing women’s hospital in Memphis – treats infants who are born prematurely or with complications such as heart defects or underdeveloped lungs. Some infants born in the unit arrive as early as 23 weeks – more than three months premature – weighing only a pound.
More than 600 babies are born annually in the unit, representing about 10 percent of the babies born at the hospital.
Many of the parents of these babies cannot afford the cost of the highly specialized care necessary for the survival of their infants. In fact, Baptist Memorial says about 30 percent of the parents are charity care, Medicaid or TennCare patients, so contributions to the NICU are tremendously important.