Remembering MMI's Paul Laikko (2024)

Paul Laikko, a longtime speech-language pathologist at the Munroe-Meyer Institute, died July 4 at age 71.

Laikko spent 35 years at the Munroe-Meyer Institute, specializing in treating children with severe speech sound disorders.

He had a hand in many success stories, getting children to say their names or tell their parents “I love you” for the first time.

“He was just a guru with these kids,” said Carol Gaebler, a speech-language pathologist who worked with Laikko since the early 1990s. “They were so comfortable with him, and he made it so fun.”

MMI Director Karoly Mirnics, MD, PhD, said: “Paul was an incredible, caring professional and a wonderful human being. He and his work embodied everything that MMI stands for. We are deeply saddened by this loss, but we will keep his memory, work and dedication alive.”

Laikko left a lasting impact on patients and their families, as well as the MMI community and the larger speech-language pathology community across the state, said MMI Associate Director Amy Nordness, PhD.

Gaebler recalled doing pediatric swallowing studies alongside Laikko. He made an unpleasant procedure fun, she said, by putting barium in pizza or doughnuts.

“We got great studies because he was so patient and kind,” Gaebler said. “The patients felt like they were having a little lunch with Paul.”

A memorial service for Paul Laikko will be held at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center, located at 202 S. 20th St. in Omaha, on Saturday, July 13, at 2 p.m.

In later years, the bulk of his caseload was made up of patients with childhood apraxia of speech.

He treated children — typically between 2 and 4 years old — who weren’t making progress in therapy or school Laikko forged strong connections with these young patients, who called him “Mr. Paul,” Dr. Nordness said.

“He had a way of helping that opened new doors for kids,” she said. “They loved coming to see Mr. Paul for speech therapy.”

Laikko was good at pausing and letting treatment ride for a few sessions rather than rushing into a therapy. More often than not, Gaebler said, sitting on the floor and letting the communication come was a successful approach.

Hearing a child say their name — or call out a sibling’s name — for the first time. Seeing Mom and Dad light up when their child could finally say, “I love you.” These kinds of highlights — plus feedback from kids and families, as well as colleagues — kept Laikko coming back to work at MMI every day.

As a colleague, Laikko provided a calming presence and could be counted on to deliver insightful feedback, Gaebler said. He had a hand in mentoring many members of the speech-language pathology department.

“He was a great listener,” she said. “When he chose to say something, you could hear a pin drop because it was always very insightful, very overarching.”

Laikko mentored many colleagues in pediatric feeding and swallowing pertaining to speech-language pathology in the NICU as well as outpatient services and childhood apraxia of speech, Dr. Nordness said.

“He was so proud to see the growth in his colleagues and was happy to pass along opportunities to let them shine,” she said. “He always had time to problem-solve with others and was so thoughtful and intellectual about getting to the heart of cases.”

Laikko expanded his reach beyond MMI by collaborating with providers in schools. His expertise was so respected, Dr. Nordness said, that many providers called him directly to discuss cases or made referrals specifically to him.

Laikko established the core MMI pediatric feeding and swallowing services in the NICU at Nebraska Medicine and wrote a pediatric feeding and swallowing guidebook. He also established collaboration with Westside Community Schools to support children with childhood apraxia of speech.

Laikko was an advocate for RiteCare and worked alongside the Scottish Rite Masons to ensure that children received the care they needed regardless of ability to pay for services. He helped to grow the RiteCare program to what it is today, Dr. Nordness said.

His caring and patient personality carried over outside of work, too, Gaebler said. He and his wife fostered hundreds of dogs and cats over the years. Many of the critters found forever homes with his MMI colleagues.

He kept in touch with friends in Oregon, where he grew up, as well as former MMI colleagues.

Laikko will leave a legacy of resilience and perseverance, MMI leaders said.

“He just found a way,” Gaebler said. “He had a very calming influence that let people pause and take a breath.”

Laikko always spotted the long-term vision to improve outcomes for patients. He worked systematically to keep working toward that purpose and he brought his colleagues on board to achieve the vision, Dr. Nordness said.

“We are so lucky that he shared his time with us all these years,” she said. “We will miss him tremendously and will continue to work toward improving the outcomes of the children we serve.”

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Remembering MMI's Paul Laikko (2024)

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