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Reblog: Nancy's Voicebox

Reblog: Nancy's Voicebox

Rick writes:
In 2007, we started BLOG Zentangle and began our enjoyable series of conversations within our Zentangle community.

In reading through these blog posts with their insightful comments, we decided to bring a few of them to your attention from time to time. It is easy, for me anyway, to sometimes think of old information as stale information. But these insights and conversations are anything BUT stale!

Today, on Nancy's birthday, we invite you to revisit this post from 2014...

                     Begin previous post . . .                  

Our dear friend and long time employee, Nancy Sampson, died in 2013 of ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), also known as "Lou Gehrig's disease."

As her symptoms progressed, Nancy lost her ability to speak and move, except for slight head movements.

After several months of unsuccessfully trying to use a very expensive, speech-generating device (basically a computer with technology that tracked eye movements), Nancy and Len (her husband) were very frustrated.

When Maria and I visited, we were saddened to see her husband's frustration at not being able to communicate with his beloved wife. This frustration was amplified for everyone, because inside that still beautiful, but unresponsive body was the same vibrant and quick-witted Nancy we had always known and loved.

Len described how much hope they had placed in the high-tech speech device. Len was facing the prospects of never conversing again with his wife who was sitting right there, fully aware of everything that was going on. It now all felt hopeless.

That evening Maria had an idea.

She lettered the alphabet, numbers and some key phrases on a large 3 x 4 foot piece of 1/2 inch foam board. I ordered a bunch of laser pointers. We got a pair of Nancy's sunglasses and removed the lenses. We used electrical tape to attached two small laser pointers with switches (so they would stay on without keeping them pressed in) to Nancy's eyeglass frames. We used two laser pointers so the frames were balanced, and if a battery ran out in one laser, the other could be immediately turned on.

Because the board was placed across the room from her, all Nancy had to do was move her head ever so slightly to point out the letters. The large board enabled Nancy to speak to the whole room or to one person. It worked perfectly from the very first minute she used it.

We remember fondly when we first set it up, that in spite of her circumstances, one of her first "spellings" was to tell a joke to her husband.

Suddenly, the Nancy we all knew was back . . . chatting, teasing and cracking jokes. She could "talk" again with her beloved husband, her family and her friends.

Nancy used her board to communicate with her family for months until just hours before she left.


The laser pointers were about $9 each. We had the foam board in our studio (a 40 x 60 inch half-inch thick foam board costs about $25). We used an old pair of Nancy's glasses. Total cost: about $45.

Her care givers had not seen anything like this before. As far as we know, this idea was not in use in this circumstance.

A recent article we read about ALS and its impact on communication with loved ones prompted us to share this.

In Nancy Sampson's memory, please share this idea with anyone you know who can use it. This idea is made available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike License.

In her memory, we call it "Nancy's VoiceBox."

We love you, Nancy!


Note 1: The decorative pattern on Nancy's VoiceBox is the Zentangle tangle, sampson, which Nancy designed.
Note 2: Please follow all instructions and cautions that come with whatever laser device you use.

After posting this blog, we sent a link to Mike "Mish" Shedlock, who writes a popular and insightful financial blog, "Global Economic Trend Analysis." We sent it because Mish is active in raising funds to cure ALS because he recently lost his wife to this disease. Mish shared this blog post with his readers at this link. One of his readers posted this comment:

Hello Mish

Thank you for this idea. My mother has a stroke the eliminated her ability to speech. Someone made flash cards for her, but that never worked very well. I can see that the speech board containing many options plus the ability to spell out works all in one place would have been very valuable. My mother died in early 2010, but I am motivated to pass on this information.


In other words, this is not just for people with ALS. Thank you, Mish. Thank you, Johana.

Rick Roberts


  • This post brought tears to my eyes. About 40 yrs ago, my mother-in-law had an unidentified degenerative nerve disease that affected her balance, speech, and eventually caused her to be confined to a wheelchair, in a nursing home. She too was of sound mind but a prisoner of her failing body. She had also lost her ability to speak. For a while, she used pen and paper, or a chalkboard to “talk” but eventually could no longer hold pens or chalk. A loving caregiver at the nursing home created a similar “talking board” with alphabet and numbers. She could just put a finger, thumb, or knuckle on letters to spell out simple needs. But I wish she had had something like Nancy’s Voice Box, with family names, frequently used words and phrases; it would have made our visits, and her life so much more rewarding! This should be standard equipment in hospitals and nursing homes! Thanks, Rick & Maria for sharing this idea with the world!

    Jake on

  • This is an example of how creative and caring individuals can make a huge change in this world, no matter how insignificant they might feel their contribution may be. This was a big contribution for Nancy and others with disabilities, but look how it came to fruition. Moral of the story? Follow through! Thank you Rick and Maria.

    LaJuania Dorman on

  • Oh wonderful you were able to create to help Nancy and I am sure many others with this beautiful creativity confirming that ‘Anything is Possible’ – you are living and sharing such wonderful concepts with us all. Thank you!

    Alice Roche on

  • This is SUCH an incredible gift! I will do everything I can to pass along this wonderful idea! A dear friend died a few months ago from ALS, and I’m aware of a local organization, from having attended support meetings with him. I’ll share this idea with them, and through other forums as I have the opportunity. Thank you, thank you!

    Sheree Green, in Ohio on

  • Thank you for sharing this sweet story. Today is my birthday too so I would’ve been very compatible with Nancy. I also had a friend who died from ALS. From diagnosis to death was only three weeks and you could see her disintegrate day by day. What an awful disease that is.

    Marcia Fasy on

  • Thank you for bringing back this blog post. I often think of Nancy and what a wonderful gift she was to me in Feb 2012, at my seminar # 8. I was such a newby to the Zentangle Method back then, and Nancy was kind, caring and a great help in many ways. I love Sampson and often use it in my art, while thinking of Nancy as I tangle. I was greatly saddened when I heard of Nancy’s passing and remember you and Maria designing Nancy’s Voice Box. What an amazing gift you were able to give Nancy and her family. You two are the BEST!!! ❤️

    Brenda Shaver Shahin on

  • This gives heart to the adage ‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Brilliant Maria ❤️

    Kathy Y. on

  • This story is amazing. Thank you for caring. Thank you for your creativity and ingenuity. I am sure there are many people who can and will benefit from your ideas.

    Bonnie L Keres on

  • Thank you very much for this post. My very dear friend was just diagnosed with ALS and although she doesn’t need this right now, I will keep this in my tool box when and if this is needed to help her and her family out. Very valuable information. So sorry for the loss of your good friend Nancy and to all those who have lost their lives to this terrible disease.

    Leslee Feiwus on

  • Thank you for sharing again. What a beautiful story. Marie, Rick, you are the best ❤️

    Sandy Nee on

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