Finding His Voice: Joe’s Story

For 40 years, Joe Maxwell has been in the business of caring for people with disabilities. The 58-year-old Oxford Circle resident, a manufacturer of orthotics and prosthetics, never imagined he’d find himself in his patients’ shoes.

At a doctor’s visit this winter, Joe’s blood pressure was measuring way too high. His doctor wanted to admit him to the hospital, but Joe wanted to go home, so he did, with blood pressure medicine in hand. The next day, Joe felt weakness in his legs. He was having a stroke. He went back to the ER and into the hospital where he had a second brain stem stroke. The strokes affected movement and sensation on both sides of his body and left him completely unable to speak.

“It feels like you’re in a pool and you can’t swim, and you can’t get anyone’s attention,” Joe recalls.

Joe’s inability to speak was physical, not cognitive. His muscles simply were not yet strong enough to say the words that were filling his brain. At times, this made recovery especially painful.

“The hardest part is when people don’t understand, but some people don’t even bother to listen,” Joe says. “When you can’t talk, sometimes your other senses are very good. I could hear and understand everything – good and bad.”

For Joe, his heightened senses also meant an extreme sensitivity to smells. Shortly after he arrived at Magee, there was a sign on Joe’s door noting his vulnerability to strong scents like perfumes and household cleaners. “They were killing me!” Joe says with a laugh.

Together with his speech therapist, Rebecca Greenhow, M.S. CCC-SLP, Joe worked diligently on learning how to communicate again. They started with signs in his room, instructing staff and visitors to ask him yes-or-no questions. He would point to pictures to describe the things he needed. One day early on, Joe spent an entire hour trying to communicate that he needed someone to scratch his leg. But he did it.

Joe says repetition was key in helping him learn to speak again. He and Becca would practice exercises over and over. And over.

“I have a new sense of respect for speech therapy and the value of being able to talk,” Joe says.

In addition to the care he received from his Magee team, Joe says he is incredibly grateful for the support of his wife Betty, who visited him every day during his time at Magee, and his other family members, Ryan, Tishana, Gloria, Jamal, Judy, and Jeff.

Joe’s advice to other stroke survivors: Never quit!

For more information on the Stroke Program at Magee, click here

Photo: Rebecca Greenhow and Joe Maxwell

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