In 1999, doctors cut open Moir’s neck to insert a breathing tube, and from then on the southwestern Ontario farmer could communicate only by moving his eyes to pick out letters from a board his wife held up.
But last year, with the help of an American startup, Moir, of Lucan Biddulph, Ont., would again speak, albeit through a machine, and for the first time in more than a decade, the paralyzed man could communicate by himself.
In a short film the American startup, Not Impossible Labs, released Feb. 11, Moir is shown in the early stages of his condition sitting in a wheelchair. Over four years, his condition would worsen. Having lost his ability to do farm work and walk, Moir would soon find his speech slurring and his breathing difficult. In 1999 he had to be put on a ventilator.
The board, as Lorraine describes, has the 26 alphabets distributed on it in four quadrants.
“Say he wants to spell the world ‘hello,’ he’ll look in the top right corner where the H is,” she said. “Then you start saying those letters and then he blinks when you get to the right letter. And then the next letter and so on.”
That was to be the couple sole way of communication until last year, when Not Impossible caught Lorraine’s attention.
While listening to the radio, Lorraine heard its founder talking about two of the firm’s initiatives: Project Daniel, 3D-printed prosthetic arms for a Sudanese war amputee and Eyewriter, an eye-movement drawing device for a Los Angeles artist who shares her husband’s condition.
Lorraine, who already knew a Not Impossible volunteer, Javid Gangjee, through a mutual friend, then reached out to the firm and it was not long before Gangjee started work on the device that would help Don Moir talk.
The device consists of a computer and an “eye tracker.” Not Impossible spokeswoman Sophia Dilley said usage is almost similar to Moir’s letter board — using eye movements to select letters — but Moir would be able to operate it himself.
“Don will look at a letter and then kind of look into the centre of the screen (to select that letter),” she said.
When sentences are formed, the computer reads them out.
“I’ll get up and practice more,” he said through his wife.
And though he can no longer work the fields, Don, whose first words with the device were, “I’m going to grow corn this year,” would likely be emailing friends for “farm-related questions” as well, Lorraine said.
“It’s nice to be able to do that without my being the intermediary all the time.”
With files from Jackie Hong and Nick Westoll