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An ASL interpreter for Hawaii’s Covid-19 press briefings has died of the virus


An American Sign Language interpreter who helped keep the deaf community informed during Covid-19 press briefings in Hawaii has died from the virus.

Patty Sakal, 62, passed away on Friday morning at Alvarado Hospital Medical Center in La Mesa, California during a trip to visit family, her sister Lorna Mouton Riff told CNN. Her health rapidly declined after testing positive for the virus and she was unable to return home to Hawaii, Riff said.

Sakal was a well-known advocate for the deaf community in Honolulu. A child to deaf parents, she was raised in the community and dedicated her life to offering interpreting services in her 40-year career, Riff said.

Hawaii’s statewide ASL interpreting service, Isle Interpret, described Sakal as a “beloved friend, mentor, and colleague” in a post to social media on Friday. “Our hearts go out to her three daughters whom she loved dearly, Aisha, Amanda, and Andrea, and her sweet mo’opuna as they mourn the loss of the pu’uwai of their family.”

When Hawaii government officials led daily coronavirus briefings to inform the public of the crisis last year, Sakal was there to ensure the hearing impaired stayed informed.

“We were honored, so honored to see her on the Hawaii news interpreting for the mayor and for the governor when Covid started,” said Riff. “And she was proud that she was able to, you know, to offer her services for that.”

Riff said the community in Hawaii felt reassured to see a trusted interpreter like Sakal helping to relay information during the uncertain times.

“She was truly putting herself on the front line and I was always amazed by that and her very positive attitude,” former Honolulu mayor, Kirk Cadwell, told CNN affiliate KGMB and KHNL.

Sakal suffered from breathing and intestinal symptoms while infected and was placed on a ventilator at the California hospital. Her family decided to remove the ventilator when it was determined that she would not survive, Riff said.

In her final moments, the nurses played her favorite jazz music while her family — via a video conference call — told her how much they loved her and will miss her.

Riff says the family has received over 200 message from the community expressing their condolences and sharing how Sakal helped them individually.

The family plans to hold a celebration of Sakal’s life on her birthday, February 24, 2022 when it is safe to gather.

“My sister did everything that she should have done for that trip,” Riff told CNN. “She wore a face mask, she wore a shield over her face, and she bought a first-class ticket so that she would be more isolated on the plane. And she still got the virus.”

“Clearly, the way that this virus moves and how contagious it is — the protections that we have been advised to do may not be enough.”

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