Karlie Geiser was one of Anna’s speech therapists. They worked together once a week for almost two years. She was also the Director of Speech at Eugene Hearing & Speech Center and a big part of the lives of so many kids struggling with speech along with their families, as well as her own family, of course, and her co-workers at EHSC.
We hadn’t seen Karlie in over a year, and it came as a huge shock when we found out that she died last Saturday in a car accident near Mapleton. How can you make any sense of losing someone so young and so unexpectedly? There are no words that can express the shock, the pain, and the gaping hole torn through so many hearts.
But what I can do is share a story.
Karlie was a big part of Anna’s life and she appears toward the end of A Smile for Anna, as Anna goes through her first year of speech therapy. She made great progress that first year with two therapists. The one assigned to her by EC Cares met Anna every week at a Sunday School classroom in a local church. The classroom had a slide in it, which three-year-old Anna loved. Karlie met with Anna in her office at EHSC, and without the slide it was a lot harder to get Anna to focus on her speech work.
It was a struggle at first, but Karlie never gave up, and one day—that I will never forget— she brought in something that made all the difference.
“So Anna. Are you getting a little bored playing games at the table?”
“Well, I don’t have a slide, but I’ve got a new fun game we can play.”
I watched from the observation room as Karlie brought out a large, wooden clown with three holes cut out—mouth, chest, and belly. I’d seen similar ones at fairs.
“Do you want to throw a bean bag through the hole?”
“Well if you do five word cards,” Karlie held up five fingers. “I’ll give you three tosses.” She dropped her ring finger and pinky leaving up three.
“We’re working on Gs today so we’ll need a stick.” Karlie held out two tongue depressors wrapped in white paper. “Cherry or Strawberry?”
I remembered how Anna hated strawberries when she was five months old: now they were her favorite fruit.
“OK.” Karlie said. “Open up.”
Karlie put the stick in Anna’s mouth as she said the words: Girl, Good, Go, Gull, and Gone.
“Derl . . . Duhd . . .Do . . . Dull . . . Don.” Even with the tongue depressor she wasn’t getting it yet, but at least she was trying.
“Good job, Anna. Now take a turn.”
Anna walked over and put a bag in the clown’s mouth.
“No, turkey, you’ve got to throw it.”
Anna laughed and took three steps back. She side-armed the second bag into the clown’s mouth. She jumped up and down and clapped. “Yay!”
“Good job, Anna. High five.”
She smiled and gave Karlie’s hand a loud smack.
Whether it was the clown, or a princess game with a pretty tiara, or Anna’s choice of books to bring in the office with her, Karlie found a way to reach Anna every time she got frustrated. She made great strides, especially in her first year of therapy, and after two-and-a-half years, she was ready to enter Kindergarten and speak clearly enough to be understood most of the time by her new teachers and classmates.
Karlie made a huge difference in Anna’s life. She helped Anna find her voice and we will always be grateful for that. We will never forget her.