Robin Thayer

Robin Thayer, a beloved member of Portland’s deaf community who overcame many health issues throughout her life, died from COVID-19 at Mercy Hospital in Portland on Wednesday. She was 56.

Ms. Thayer was remembered by her family Monday as a strong and resilient woman whose smile could light up a room.

Her mother, Cynthia Thayer of Gouldsboro, reflected on her daughter’s life Monday, saying it had been a hard life, but a good one.

She was born with numerous birth defects including dislocated hips, an enlarged liver and spleen, and an under-developed jaw, her mother said. Ms. Thayer was profoundly deaf and had developmental disabilities. She endured more than a dozen hip surgeries and fought one complication after another. She also suffered from depression and mental illness.

“She kept on trucking,” her mother said. “She kind of took everything that came at her pretty well. It was pretty amazing. She was a tough cookie.”

Ms. Thayer graduated from the Governor Baxter School for the Deaf. In her early years, she lived in Portland and was well-known in the city’s deaf community. She attended meetings and events at the school and kept in touch with former classmates over the years.

Her mother said she was a political activist who spoke out on issues impacting the deaf community. She was among a group of former students from the Baxter School for the Deaf who lobbied the state for compensation after a years-long investigation into physical and sexual abuse of students by staff, including top administrators.

In recent years, she lived in Buxton. She had a passion for making beaded jewelry, which she sold at craft fairs. She also enjoyed going to restaurants, traveling and spending time with friends.

“She was a very funny person,” her mother said. “She liked to joke and kid around. She had a lovely smile. She was always kind of up or down, and I think people liked that about her. You never knew how she would be.”

Ms. Thayer spent most of the past few months in quarantine at home, where she received assistance from caregivers at Ascentria Care Alliance.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Ms. Thayer had felt isolated and disconnected from people. Her mother said she could read lips, but masks and other face coverings made it difficult for her to communicate with people who didn’t know sign language.

Ms. Thayer was admitted to Mercy Hospital in mid-May and tested positive for coronavirus. Her mother said she was placed on oxygen, and then a ventilator for more than two weeks. The day before she died she was showing improvement, doctors were hopeful she would recovered.

Her mother, who lives nearly three hours away, advocated for an American Sign Language interpreter in her daughter’s hospital room. She said hospital staff provided her with interpreter services through a video feed so she could communicate with her caregivers.

Edward Gilman, director of communications and government relations at Northern Light Mercy Hospital, released a statement Monday saying that during the COVID-19 pandemic video feeds are often used when interpreters are needed to reduce the spread of infection. In addition, in-person interpreters would be required to wear personal protective equipment, which would interfere with lip reading.

“We were deeply saddened by the passing of Robin Thayer. It was a privilege to care for her, and we send our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends during this difficult time,” Gilman wrote. “The type of personal protective equipment (PPE) used by our care teams is determined by the type of infectious disease precautions being followed at the time care is provided.

“In this case respirators were required, which offer a higher level of protection than a face mask. Face masks with transparent windows have been unavailable for some time due to COVID-19. Our supply chain team has partnered with a local manufacturer to create and test a prototype so that we can produce them locally in Maine and have them available at our facilities.”

Cynthia Thayer said she never got to see her daughter before she died.

“It was pretty upsetting,” she said. “I called three to four times a day. They probably thought I was a pest. I told them a few signs to do. It was frustrating. I’m sure it was frustrating for them too.”

Comments are not available on this story.