A man said "I love you" to his wife for the first time in months after losing his speech to ALS, all thanks to a group of college students who built the technology to facilitate the touching moment.
“I can’t tell you how great it felt to have your husband tell you that he loves you when he can’t even speak,” Janice Phelps, 64, of Chickasha, Okla., told InsideEdition.com. “It was wonderful, I wanted to cry.”
Thanks to the VisuALS, a program developed by four Oklahoma Christian University undergraduate students, Carl Phelps, 64, is now able to communicate with his wife, and play chess with his granddaughter.
The program, which runs primarily using an eye tracking device, allows him to use his sight to navigate a computer. It also includes a text-to-speech program that allows Carl to “talk” to his wife by “typing” with his eyes.
“I think we all got kind of emotional — I definitely teared up a bit," said Preston Kemp, and one of four people on the team that helped developed VisuALS. “For us, it was an engineering project, but Carl made it real for us. He was able to tell his wife he loved her again, and that was so incredibly powerful and impactful.”
Kemp, a computer engineering major, was one of the four undergraduate students who helped develop the life-changing software as a part of their class project. Also on the team were Tyler Sriver and John Bilello, both computer engineering majors, and Aubrey Gonzalez, an electrical engineering major.
“Carl has become a family member to us,” Gonzalez told InsideEdition.com. “He was communicating a lot of memories from his life that he wrote down before he lost the use of his hands. With his own voice, he was able to tell us how he and Janice met and fell in love.”
The group met Carl in January, about three years after he developed the disease.
Janice recalled the moment when her husband returned from an out-of-state football game in 2014 with their daughter and son-in-law, and they mentioned he was slurring his words.
They brushed it off, until they went to Carl’s sister’s funeral a month later. She had just died of ALS.
“Everyone was speaking with ease except him,” Janice said. “It was a real struggle getting words out, but he knew he had ALS.”
Carl was eventually diagnosed by a doctor, and for the following years, he adjusted to losing many of his physical abilities, including getting fitted for a feeding tube and learning to do sign language when he lost his speech.
He was starting to lose strength in his hands and fingers that were once essential in communicating when he was introduced to the new technology a few months ago," Janice said. Although the product was not yet finished being developed, “Carl didn’t want to leave until we promised he could get one."
“It’s just been wonderful to be able to communicate with Carl,” Janice said. “It just happened at the right time for us. It was a God thing.”