ASL interpreter whose services amid pandemic helped keep community safe dies of COVID

Updated: Jan. 18, 2021 at 8:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A woman who helped the deaf community follow what was happening with the coronavirus crisis has been taken by the disease.

Patty Sakal, 62, a veteran sign language interpreter and inspiring leader for the hearing-impaired community, died last week after contracting COVID-19.

In the last 10 months, she’s been a fixture at government news conferences, signing for the deaf to ensure they could also get vital information on the pandemic.

Loved ones and friends say Sakal dedicated her life to helping the hearing-impaired.

“Sometimes in life, your career finds you, you don’t necessarily choose it and that was so much so for Patty,” said Sakal’s sister, Lorna Mouton Riff.

“She found a niche for herself and she was trusted by the deaf community because she grew up in it.”

Sakal, whose parents were deaf, was one of the founders of the Georgia Morikawa Center, a non-profit organization named in honor of her mother and built to serve the deaf community.

During the pandemic, she was active in the public eye as an interpreter at briefings for Gov. David Ige and former Honolulu mayor Kirk Caldwell.

“Here it was, a pandemic and it was not safe to go, yet, she went out and she helped do a job that was critical to people who needed this information,” Caldwell said.

“She was truly putting herself on the frontline and I was always amazed by that and by her positive attitude. She was a very friendly person.”

Sakal is also being remembered as passionate, selfless, and instrumental in making sure the deaf were understood and informed.

Kristine Pagano is among those Sakal helped.

“If a deaf person needed her or needed help communicating with families, Patty was right there, always there,” said Pagano, through an interpreter. “Her heart was, she was always willing to give her heart for the community.”

Sakal, who was mother of three and grandmother of two, appears to have contracted COVID-19 while visiting one of her daughters in California.

In her pre-travel test to return to the islands, she tested positive.

“Patty rapidly declined and the virus just took hold in her body and ravaged it,” Mouton Riff said.

She died Friday, after being taken to an ER for trouble breathing.

“We made that difficult decision to take her off of the ventilator and let her go in peace,” Mouton Riff said. “The nurses were in there. We were all on Zoom. They were playing her favorite jazz music and we had a chance to at least say goodbye in the only way we could at that time.”

In a statement, Ige sent his condolences to Sakal’s family, thanked her for her service, and said she was “committed to helping state and county government get important information out to our deaf community during times of crisis.”

Sakal’s loved ones have established a GoFundMe account to help with funeral expenses.

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