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Moishe Moves Mountains He Can't Even See

MoisheLike any other sixth grader, Moishe G. carefully reviewed the PowerPoint presentation he'd prepared for science class, and corrected a last-minute spelling error. Yet unlike most sixth graders, Moishe is both blind and severely physically handicapped. The marvels he performs are the result of such wonders as a "talking" computer, his indomitable will, and the devotion of the Meshi Rehabilitation Center staff.

Struck at birth by a rare form of congenital muscular dystrophy called "Merosin Positive," Moishe's muscles have become steadily wasted. He can no longer stand or walk, his overall muscle tone is weak, and he is confined to a wheelchair. The disease also attacked the optic nerve, causing blindness. Yet with it all, the young man had one huge stroke of luck: he found his way to Meshi. Here, the rehabilitation staff has worked fiercely to harness every therapy, type of equipment and technological aid to enable Moishe to better his life. The results are nothing short of amazing.

"The disease is degenerative," says Talia Farber, director of Meshi's assistive technology department, "and over the five years since Moishe came to Meshi, we've waged a constant battle to find the proper devices to help him cope with his serious handicaps. Then we keep adapting the devices as his condition changes."

The computer that Meshi provided him in second grade became Moishe's lifeblood. Its special features made it possible for his weak hands to use, and it was tailor-fitted to his wheelchair. "Moishe grasped computer operation in no time," Talia recalls. "His parents worked closely with us, and his father taught him to touch-type.

"As Moishe's sight worsened, I experimented with the screen to find background colors and text that would augment its visibility. Then I began enlarging the font size higher and higher,using the special software magnifying tool ‘Zoom Text.’

As time went on," she continued, "Moishe became virtually blind. At that point, we acquired an audio computer which 'recites' back to Moishe what he writes. Without sight, he can't read what's written on the screen. But when the computer mispronounces a word he's typed, Moishe knows he's misspelled it and goes back to correct the spelling till it sounds just right. "

Although his computer is fairly fluent in Hebrew, there are certain realms, such as the menu and tool bars of Windows applications, that can only be operated in English—which prompted Moishe to master the English vocabulary and typing in no time at all.

Meshi special education teacher Chaya Sara Heller is responsible for helping Moishe and his classmates study a full sixth-grade curriculum of math, reading, Israeli history, science, current events and more. In addition, the class learns a varied program of Jewish studies. "Moishe's very inquisitive and anxious to learn. He's a good friend to his classmates as well."

Moishe, who is one of six children, travels over an hour each way to Meshi and back from his home near Tel Aviv. His academic studies at the Meshi Center are accompanied by a very intensive program of physical and occupational therapy, in groups and privately, each day.

Beyond the blindness, Moishe's physical handicaps are plenty daunting in themselves. "He lacks the strength to push a regular wheelchair," Chaya Sara explains, "but we've adapted a motorized wheelchair for his needs. With very close supervision, Moishe rides Meshi's customized, specially-adapted bicycles, and he and his classmates enjoy special outings to the park and regular expeditions to shops and other sites surrounding the school. "

Despite his handicaps, Moishe is very connected to the outside world. "I introduced him to e-mail communication just as his sight was rapidly deteriorating," Talia recalled. "With the audio computer, he can receive 'talking' e-mails, and he even records messages to send in return. Today he's an avid e-mail correspondent, with pen pals of all ages." One recent recipient of an e-mail from Moishe is Meshi Administrative Director Asher Zuravin. “Moishe wrote to lodge a personal complaint that there wasn’t enough food being served at lunchtime, and he was still hungry,” Zuravin noted with a smile. “We took care of the matter right away!”

Most impressively, the young man is becoming more and more independent and savvy in the world of computers and Internet.  He is an outstanding problem-solver: when there is a glitch in the net connection, for example, he navigates through the menus and updates the setups & configurations with the greatest of ease.

Moishe's PowerPoint dealt with the subject of glass, and he'd surfed the net to find information on the intricacies of glass production, its products and recycling. "Moishe's made extraordinary strides," Talia admitted. "But he'll always need help, and he'll always require the proper adaptive technology aids to meet his changing needs."

But Moishe may take an independent stance in that realm in the future as well. "I'm hoping to become a computer technician when I grow up," he smiles.


Previous Featured Children
At Ruchama Feldman's birth in 1996, the tiny, premature blue-eyed baby's serious injuries left physicians convinced that she would remain paralyzed and blind for life. Yet her mother Lifsha mustered the enormous strength to fight to prove them wrong, and to make every solitary effort possible to improve Ruchama's life.
When 4-year-old Chemmie--a sweet, blond-haired boy with a ready smile--entered Meshi three years ago, he could only lie on the floor. Stricken at birth by "Joubert Syndrome," a rare neurological disorder, Chemmie could do little more than cry.
Like any other sixth grader, Moishe G. carefully reviewed the PowerPoint presentation he'd prepared for science class, and corrected a last-minute spelling error. Yet unlike most sixth graders, Moishe is both blind and severely physically handicapped.
Three years ago, Mazal B. had four life and death decisions to make. Pregnant with quadruplets after years of fertility treatments and months of hospitalization, she tried to stand firm against her doctors’ constant pleas to carry out a selective reduction of the embryos.
Three-year-old, Hadassah S. is racing against time. The spastic athetoid cerebral palsy that struck her brain at birth has severely affected her body’s muscles, leaving her unable to sit, stand or walk independently, speak, feed herself, or a host of other basic functions.
Today, at age six, Erel is the uncontested star of his Meshi kindergarten class. Indoors, he walks independently with the aid of canes and a protective helmet, and outdoors he operates his power wheelchair with skill, precision, and great aplomb.
One of the first students in Meshi's fledgling kindergarten, and one of the most severely disabled of all. His progress over the years—an amazing, near-miracle of a breakthrough---is a testament to the extraordinary care,treatment, perseverance and love of the Meshi staff.
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