The Mexican Institute of Hearing and Language is in emergency: María Paz Berruecos
I have always admired those who carry out their life project despite any obstacle, and the case of the Berruecos Villalobos spouses is exemplary. The specialist and teacher María Paz Berruecos has dedicated her life to those who have language problems and she makes us part of her achievements with the Mexican Institute of Hearing and Language (Imal).
–To begin with, it is not known how many deaf people there are in Mexico. The statistics almost always come from the United States. Here the first deafness census was carried out, dividing those who have larynx problems and those who have speech problems. When my parents, doctors, returned from France, a survey was never done again. My father was Pedro Berruecos Téllez, an otolaryngologist and audiologist; my mother, Paz Villalobos, singer, phoniatric doctor and pianist. They both decided to treat the larynx and ears, and the production of language. They studied their specialty in Paris, and the French were very struck by the fact that two Mexicans chose very new careers and medical professions that were unknown to each other.
“My parents had Jean Tarneaud as a teacher; his guide was the first woman in Europe who insisted on founding a course for speech problems, madame Borel Maisonny, who achieved it after World War II. At the end of the 40s, my parents traveled to France to learn from her, and they returned to Mexico with great enthusiasm, so much so that they inherited her love for restoring the ability to hear to those who are deaf. “I loved the possibility that a deaf and mute child could speak, because if he doesn’t speak, he doesn’t read, and if not, he reads, he doesn’t write and, therefore, he doesn’t learn.”
–Does deafness cause lack of communication?
-Completely. A huge number of deaf children began to arrive with my dad. My mother treated artists; Carlos Chávez loved her very much. She took her piano exam at the Conservatory and was one of the first to obtain her degree. In her time deafness was not treated, ears were not touched. Other doctors began to use the instruments that my parents brought from Europe and I – at 17 years old – was sent to take an exam at the University of Washington to enter a career as a teacher of the oral deaf. It was very lucky, because my director at the Medical Center of that university founded the Central Institute of Deafness (CID, for its acronym in English). There was an institute for the deaf in Massachusetts and another in New York.
“The person left in charge of the CID was Max A. Goldstein, disciple of Alejandro Graham Bell, founder of audiology and author of one of the greatest inventions, the device to measure deafness, as important as electricity or the telephone. Dr. Goldstein was present at my graduation exam.
“For four years I was responsible for nine deaf girls between 9 and 11 years old, and I managed to raise them. It turned out to be a fascinating experience. In those years there was no television. Thank God, we were very creative and made a lot of games that stimulated the children to such a degree that they wanted to continue playing in their bedroom. I worked in a very famous center, I had a girl from India, one from Canada, one from Suriname, children from the United States; I was his house mother and I learned a lot. I was in charge of three bedrooms with the doors open, three girls in each one; I had to see that they bathed, cut their nails or I did it, make long-distance reports and take two of them to mass, because the center had many Jewish children, because that community turned to the CID.
When I finished my degree, they offered me a master’s degree in speech problems. They are adults who lose their speech due to a brain tumor, are paralyzed by a stroke or a gunshot. Many came from the war. I did my master’s degree with a scholarship in the United States and to pay for my accommodation, I worked at the CID, in the medical area of St. Louis Missouri, dedicated to all types of diseases.
–Did you treat children with stuttering problems?
–Yes, to teach them the R, the double R… everything; There are also those who do not learn to read because they do not speak well. I spent seven years there, and my parents went to found the Institute of Hearing and Language in Venezuela, the first in Latin America to adopt the programs of our Mexican Institute of Hearing and Language AC (Imal), which has just completed 74 years of work. non-stop. We didn’t even do it during the pandemic! In Mexico luck fell, blessing, destiny, God knows, that the World Health Organization (WHO) sent for my father… they had called my mother from the United Nations Educational Organization, Science and Culture (UNESCO) since 1951, when the institute was founded. They wanted the Training Center for Teachers, Doctors, and Speech and Language Therapists to be built in Mexico for all of Latin America.
“The WHO and UNESCO asked the Organization of American States (OAS) to sponsor scholarships from Guatemala to Argentina, because Mexico was going to be the training center for multiprofessionals, not just audiologists or cleft lip and palate surgeons, and the OAS I agree. I returned to Mexico at the end of 1957, and in February 1958 a career was opened for doctors and master therapists; The courses varied according to the pathological population.
The institute became very famous, similar centers began to form throughout Latin America. My parents are known as Mama Paz and Papa Pedro. They already died. My brother Pedro also became an audiologist and I became a teacher for the deaf.
–Where does Imal get the money to help so many people?
–Our deaf children do not have disability scholarships because they are not in a government school, they do not have support to buy hearing aids, which cost between 50 thousand and 100 thousand pesos each; They do not have support for mold changes, for iron breakdowns and, on top of that, they cannot sustain their studies. In Imal there was no charge and right now I only have 10 children, we are in an emergency; We had a maximum of 60. We had a board of trustees, but the pandemic came and they told us that the poor, very poor Santander bank would no longer give scholarships for deaf children, because they chose other programs and a thousand pretexts. On the other hand, our scholarships from a fabric factory that went bankrupt due to the pandemic were suspended; In addition, they fired a father because the office where he worked was closed and they went to his town; We cared for his son in the capital. It has been difficult to see children who already spoke and read leave because they lost their scholarships; We felt happy in life because my mother and father built a very good board that is disappearing. Right now we only have 10 children who were already on their way to two important things: learning to read lips and use their devices. What my father did not see, because he died before, is that some deafnesses can be operated on, not all, but the surgery costs a million pesos.
–Why is it so expensive?
-It is very difficult. The doctor does not see the ear, he has an amplifier, a wonderful device, and on a screen, with tweezers that look like needles, he inserts a very fine wire called a cochlear implant, which takes it to the snail. The operation of the cochlea is a very fine operation. Only rich children could have cochlear implants in Mexico, but the company that manufactured this wonder gave a series of implants to children from Imal.
Dude, what a shame you didn’t see this., he used to lament, because he would have been happy. He said:
There is nothing impossible in science.