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Woman's kindness helps break silence

Teresita "Tess" Martires did something a little unusual with her 1997 income tax return.

She bought a round-trip airline ticket for a deaf Israeli child so he could be fitted for new hearing aids in America.

The youngster, Gil Segal, 7, arrived here earlier this month and received his new hearing aids at the Bob Evans Hearing Center Inc. in Seminole, owned by Bob and Lynda Evans.

Everything was donated, including the hearing aids, the testing by audiologist Rachel Ridge and the Evans' services.

The hearing aids were specially designed by the Starkey Fund, affiliated with Starkey Laboratories Inc., a Minnesota hearing-aid manufacturer. The Starkey Fund provides hearing instruments to people who need them but can't afford them.

The total cost of donated instruments and services was about $3,000.

Martires, a psychiatric nurse for Morton Plant Mease Health Care, first learned of Gil's problems when she met his parents, Tsippi and Ami Segal, in Jerusalem in December.

Deaf since birth, Gil has worn hearing aids since he was 3. Over the years they didn't work properly, causing him problems at school.

His parents, whose two other children have eye problems, couldn't afford to continually repair Gil's hearing aids, which originally cost about $1,000.

When she returned to the United States in February, Martires, 47, and a co-worker called dozens of local hearing aid centers, hoping to find one willing to donate hearing aids for Gil.

Eventually, Martires found the Evanses. They told her about the Starkey Fund and Starkey Laboratories. A rush order was put in for Gil's specially designed hearing aids, and they were ready in six days.

Gil and his mother traveled to Seminole on April 7 and the next day, Gil visited the center to be tested and sized for the hearing aids.

While in the country and staying with Martires, the Segals also have been busy tourists, visiting New Orleans, Busch Gardens, Epcot Center and the Kennedy Space Center. Martires has paid Gil's expenses; Mrs. Segal paid her way with help from relatives.

"It gives me a lot of pleasure to help someone else," Martires said. "I have been so blessed by God in my life, I just want to give something back."

Martires, originally from the Philippines, has donated time or money to worthy causes since she moved to the United States from Manila in 1979.

Twice a year, she takes unpaid leaves of absence from her job at Morton Plant Hospital in Clearwater to work in developing countries such as India, the Dominican Republic, and the countries of Central and South America.

After meeting the Segals in Israel last year, Martires traveled to India and worked for a month with Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity in Calcutta.

In 1989, Martires began twice-monthly visits to a migrant workers camp in Ruskin.

"I've made a deal with Morton Plant to get all the old mattresses they're going to throw away. Instead, I take them to Ruskin, where there are hundreds of migrant workers," Martires said.

So far, she's delivered 58 mattresses, boxes of used clothing, toys and other items.

"These things enrich my life," Martires said last week, waiting for her young friend to be finished at the Evans' office.

Just then, Gil ran over and gave her a "high five" thank you.

Almost overcome with emotion, Gil's mom said: "I'm out of words. It's so beautiful to know there are people like this who are donating everything. And Tess is such a giving person."

When the Segals returned to Israel on April 21, they took one more donated item with them: an amplified telephone from the Deaf Service Center's Hearing Enrichment Appliance Resource program in Pinellas Park.

Also, the Evanses and the Starkey Fund have arranged for a Starkey agent in Israel to service Gil's hearing aids, for free, whenever needed.

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