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2012 ISSUE 1

Building Hope

Survivors inspire one another through a support group.

It was months after his stroke before Reed Harris was able to say his wife’s name.

“When he did say it, I cried with utter joy,” Mary Harris says.

Harris, 55, had a stroke in 2007 and six months later became a charter member of a stroke support group. He teamed up with Bill Orlikowski, who had a stroke the same year, and today the two are known as the “Dynamic Duo” as they provide support and encourage rehabilitation through the Peer Visitor Program at Glancy Rehabilitation Center in Duluth, a suburb of Atlanta, GA.

“We help them to not be scared,” Harris says. “Some are young, 25 and 35 years old. They’re frightened. We build hope, listen.”

Harris is working through aphasia from his stroke and gives other survivors with aphasia hope when they see how far he’s come and the progress he continues to make. Laboring his way from sign language to halting words and simple phrases, Harris regained his ability to communicate and continues to strive toward improved writing and reading.

“Baby steps,” he says. “It’s baby steps with stroke.”

In a single year, Harris says he and Orlikowski visited 200 people. Bill does the talking and Harris is a great listener, which led to their nickname the Dynamic Duo.

“We walk with them some,” Harris adds. “There’s lots of laughing and smiles.”

After researching countless speech therapy programs throughout Georgia and the Southeast, Harris and his wife now travel to Columbia, SC to work on his speech with a doctor who specializes in aphasia. The couple agrees that continued therapy and participating in support groups is a huge help in the healing process.

“Humor is great medicine,” Mary Harris advises. “And focus on can do’s versus cannot do’s.”

About Aphasia

Aphasia is an impairment of language. Stroke survivors with aphasia might be unable to use and comprehend words, but aphasia does not affect intelligence. It is a common problem for many stroke survivors and might make it hard to talk, read and write. No two people experience aphasia the same way.

Research also shows that patients can continue to make gains after two years, as long as they keep working on it. The key is to keep going to therapy and to continue teaching oneself.

Communication tips for a person who has aphasia

  • Use props to make conversation easier, such as photos and maps.
  • Draw or write things down on paper.
  • Take your time. Make phone calls or try talking only when you have plenty of time.
  • Stay calm. Take one idea at a time.
  • Create a communication book that includes words, pictures and symbols helpful to you.
  • Carry and show others a card or paper explaining what aphasia is and that you have it.

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National Stroke Association’s mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education and programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.

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