HONOLULU (KHON2) — American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters play a vital role in getting information to the deaf community, especially during a pandemic. One interpreter, who translated messages for Governor David Ige and former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, has passed away from COVID-19, according to her family. The family says Patty Sakal was meant to be an interpreter and was a trusted member within the deaf community.
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Family members told KHON2 that Sakal died from COVID-19 during a trip to California. They say she traveled there to see her daughter, who was about to be deployed.
“We know now that somewhere between the Honolulu airport and the San Diego airport she contracted the virus,” said her older sister Lorna Mouton Riff.
Sakal passed away on Friday and the family is now suffering from a tremendous loss.
“I think if you look at that baby picture of her and you see that face, that little joyful face with that smile, that is Patty. She never lost that childlike view of things,” said her sister.
Patty was described as an advocate for the deaf community, like her mother, with an amazing talent to communicate across different groups.
“It was a different experience with her sign language. And, you know, being able to use some Hawaiian sign language incorporated in her interpreting, as well as, being able to make sure that she was code switching to meet the needs of all of the different signers in Hawaii,” said Darlene Ewan, teacher for the Hawaii School for the Deaf and Blind.
“She played the guitar, she played drums. She professionally was an interpreter. But she was so much more than that,” said fellow ASL interpreter Michele Morris.
And when the time came, Sakal, like other interpreters, stepped up to the spotlight to make sure no one was left in the dark.
“Patty was there in the very worst of times during the pandemic, when we had these surges and had to lock down Oahu for a second time.,” said former Mayor Caldwell. “I wish I would have said ‘thank you’ more times for all she did. We would always thank her, but she just worked so hard.”
As the people whose lives Sakal touched grieve from her sudden passing, her family urges everyone to be safe.
“Our advice is, as much as you want to be together, as much as you yearn for that, be patient. It’s just not worth it right now,” said Mouton Riff.
Hawaii Interpreting Services (HIS) has set up a fund for Sakal called “Patty Keeps Giving.” HIS says $1,000 will be given to interpreters for professional growth and $3,000 will be given for deaf community members for any kind of need as a living tribute for Sakal.
Friends of Sakal and her family have also set up a GoFundMe called “Bless Sister Patty Sakal” to help pay for a memorial service in her honor. If you wish to donate, click here.