Aphasia Awareness Month: Mark’s Story

As mentioned in previous blog articles, June is Aphasia Awareness Month. Aphasia is one of the most common conditions caused by stroke or brain injury and results in the loss or impairment of one’s ability to use or comprehend language. As a speech-language pathologist (SLP), I work alongside many people struggling with aphasia and/or apraxia following an injury to the brain. While being in the hospital following an injury is never easy, recovery can be especially challenging for those individuals who are unable to express themselves or understand what is being said around them. Today, we meet Mark Newell. Mark is a stroke survivor and someone who developed aphasia and apraxia (a motor planning impairment affecting speech) after waking up from an elective cardiac surgery last June.  Through his perseverance, hard work, and dedication, Mark gives true meaning to our motto “Believe in a way back” after a life-changing event. He is an inspiration to me and so many others, and I am proud to share his story with you today.

Ashley Owens: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Mark Newell: My name is Mark Newell, and I live here in Center City, Philadelphia with my partner Fred. I’m originally from the Jersey shore where I frequently visit my four siblings and lots of old friends from high school. I still go to the beach every week in the summer. I’m a realtor here in Philadelphia and recently went back to work after taking time off following my stroke. In my free time, I like to keep myself busy and enjoy reading, running, hiking, and traveling. In fact, I’m going to Scotland this Friday!

AO: What brought you into Magee?

MN: I came to Magee almost exactly one year ago after suffering a stroke during an elective heart procedure. The stroke happened when I went under anesthesia – a word I couldn’t say a month ago. I woke up from surgery and felt like I lived on a new planet or in a foreign country. That was brutal! When I came to Magee, I was in pretty good shape physically but had a lot of difficulty speaking and communicating. I remember thinking that recovery would happen quickly within days or weeks. Looking back, I had no idea how much hard work was ahead of me.

AO: What difficulties did you have following your stroke?

MN: Before the stroke, I was a very good talker. Talking is something I enjoy doing and is a big part of who I am. Losing that essential part of my being was hard to adjust to. I still miss being able to talk without difficulty, even though I’m making progress each day. Another challenge I dealt with following my stroke was the waiting. When you’re in the hospital, the weeks go by slowly and leave you with so much time for your mind to wander. I had this expectation that I would be ready to speak and go back to work within a week. It took me a while to get over that expectation and to realize it would take time and lots of hard work to get to where I wanted to be.

AO: What are some things that helped you during your recovery?  

MN: The support and ongoing education I received from my therapists throughout my recovery was extremely helpful. They helped give me feedback and provided me with activities to work on that enabled me to achieve my goals. As I progressed throughout my recovery, I was able to start carrying over the information I learned to teach myself. For example, if I’m unsure of how to pronounce a word, I look up the phonetic spelling which helps me sound out the word more easily. I’m getting better each day and am now able to say new words I wasn’t able to say even a month ago (like ‘anesthesia’!)

AO: What advice would you give to someone recently diagnosed with aphasia?

MN: I would tell them to stay positive and work hard. Recovery is challenging but hard work does pay off. I thought recovery would come in a matter of weeks or months, but it has been ongoing for me. I’m learning and achieving goals every day. Keep working hard!

AO: Where are you now?

MN: I’m not exactly where I hoped I’d be a year after my stroke, but I’ve learned to be patient and take it day by day. After receiving speech therapy services in the outpatient setting to improve my communication, I started taking some clients again in October with the help of colleagues and my sister. I was able to return to work full time this spring. I can communicate more fluently, and I can be persuasive, something that was hard to do in the early stages of my recovery. There isn’t a word I can’t say eventually; I’m just working on getting the words out more easily. I’m now also focused on improving the cadence of my speech to avoid sounding monotone when I’m talking. I’m open and honest with people about my stroke and my speech. The responses have always been positive and full of support!

Magee’s Aphasia Community Support Group meets monthly. For more information, click here

Pictured: Mark Newell and Ashley Owens

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