By Kathy Walsh

DENVER (CBS4) – A widow from Denver is helping critically ill people better communicate. Her donation has allowed UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital to buy high tech devices that give patients who can’t speak a voice.

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For Arnette Schouten, it is a very personal mission.

Arnette struggled to understand her husband, Jerry, in his final days after he was badly burned in a race car crash. Now, she wants to make things easier for other families in difficult times.

“I’m using my eyes to communicate,” explained Meghann Griffin, speech and language pathologist at University of Colorado Hospital.

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Meghann Griffin (right) and Arnette Schouten (left) (credit: CBS)

She was demonstrating a computer equipped with special eye tracking technology.

“I have to hold my eye gaze on my letter for about one second,” she said.

She could spell what she wanted to say. She was using the Tobii Dynavox large screen, eye-controlled speech generating device.

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(credit: Arnette Schouten)

“That’s what Jerry would have needed,” said Arnette.

Jerry and Arnette Schouten were married for nearly 47 years. They were a family partial to racing Porsches.

“Jerry liked to win,” Arnette laughed.

But on Aug. 17, 2013, Jerry crashed.

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(credit: Arnette Schouten)

“He just got overheated, and he passed out and he just drove off the track and hit the concrete barrier,” said Arnette.

The car caught fire. At the UCHealth Burn Center Jerry had a breathing tube and couldn’t speak. It was frustrating and heartbreaking.

“Because he died without any of us, without him being able to tell us how he felt,” said an emotional Arnette.

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Arnette Schouten (credit: CBS)

Since Jerry’s death, Arnette has restored and sold a 1973 Porsche Carrera 911 RS.  She has donated some of the proceeds to buy a number of speech generating devices for the hospital in Jerry’s honor.

“For the guy who talks a lot,” Arnette said. “He would have thought this was great.”

And Arnette believes Jerry would be proud of her for having the vision to help others have a voice.

The plan is to purchase the eye-tracking system and then add tablets with specialized software. Not only will they help patients with speech difficulties communicate with family, but they can also have more of a say in their care.

Kathy Walsh is CBS4’s Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 since 1984. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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