After 18 years, their daughter could speak again

February 10, 1994|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Western Maryland Bureau of The Sun

HAGERSTOWN -- Over and over, Carol Goldman obediently answers her mother's questions. What's your favorite color? Blue. Do you like ice cream? Yes. What's your favorite flavor? Chocolate.

Simple questions. Simple answers.

Yet the exchange between Bea Goldman and her 42-year-old daughter yesterday was extraordinary. Until last Wednesday, Carol Goldman, who was born mentally retarded, hadn't spoken a word in 18 years.

Then, while working with a therapist -- a routine since becoming a resident at the state-operated Western Maryland Center in 1976 -- Carol unexpectedly began saying numbers.

The Goldmans learned of their daughter's speech on a regular visiting day.

"I went to Carol's room and held up one finger, and I said, 'What is this?' She said, 'One,' " recalled Mrs. Goldman. "My heart skipped a beat."

"I said, 'Who am I?' and she said, 'Mom.' I just fell apart."

Since that remarkable day, an ebullient Mrs. Goldman has asked her daughter the same simple questions again and again, first for an Associated Press reporter she knew, and then before numerous newspaper and television reporters from Baltimore and Washington -- and beyond.

The story -- which Mr. Goldman describes as one "of hope, of frustration and of never giving up" -- has drawn international attention. The Goldmans have been interviewed by a South African radio station. Television talk-show hostess Sally Jesse Raphael has called.

"It's hard to put into words," said Mrs. Goldman, a retired bookkeeper in her 70s, of her feelings about her daughter's sudden speech. "There's God's hand in here somewhere. It's truly a miracle. It's absolutely wonderful."

Ron Pike, the hospital's director of social work, said doctors aren't sure what prompted Carol Goldman to speak. He said changes in medication may have been the catalyst.

"We don't really know," Mr. Pike said. "[The Goldmans] say it's a miracle. Who are we to say it's not? We're thrilled that it happened. It couldn't have happened to nicer people."

Carol Goldman led a fairly normal life as a child -- attending Montgomery County schools and participating in the Girl Scouts. When she reached adulthood, she moved to a home for retarded adults in Albany, N.Y., where she fell during a seizure and hit her head against a sink, her father said.

She underwent surgery for blood clot on the brain and was in a coma for three months. Her health gradually improved, and the Goldmans transferred her to the Western Maryland Center, a state-run hospital for rehabilitative and chronically ill patients.

For several years, the Goldmans, who live in Silver Spring, visited their daughter four or five times a week. They've since curbed their visits to twice weekly -- on Wednesdays and Sundays.

"We learned to live our own lives, but Carol has been uppermost in our minds," said Mr. Goldman, a retired vending-business owner.

During their visits, the Goldmans have read books to their daughter, put puzzles together -- "anything to stimulate her," Mrs. Goldman said. Although their daughter, who reads at a third-grade level, couldn't talk, she was able to point to lists of words -- colors, names, days of the week, ailments -- on a communications boards. She also could nod "yes" and "no."

"We used to take her out to eat," Mr. Goldman recalled. "We went to every restaurant in Hagerstown. Everybody knew us. But she started having some medical problems, and were getting a little older, so we stopped. I think we might try it again, though."

The lack of communication was frustrating.

Over the years, the Goldmans have befriended many of the hospital staff and have rallied to the hospital's aid during the state's budget crunch. They've even testified in Annapolis in the institution's behalf.

They hope their daughter's story will bring public attention to the financial and staffing needs of such hospitals.

Although Carol answers questions and sings, she doesn't initiate conversation, her parents said. They hope that will come.

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