Sunday 1 February 2015

Aphasia: getting your voice back after having a stroke

Two groups are working towards building awareness of this condition, writes Áilín Quinlan

Tommy Nolan (centre) with Sergio Valentini and Dave Reilly of Rua Red, and speech and language therapists Aine Lawlor (left) and Niamh Barratt. DAVE MEEHAN

Last February, retired plumber Tommy Nolan suffered a stroke -- yet only a few months later he's teaching cafe staff how to deal with customers who have speech difficulties.

The married father of four adult children was quietly working in his garden while his wife was out shopping when, without warning, he recalls, "something came over me".

Just then the phone rang -- it was his eldest daughter Susan to say she was coming to visit.

To his shock, the 75-year-old found himself suddenly quite unable to speak.

"I don't know what happened," he recalls.

Luckily Susan was quick off the mark. She guessed that something was seriously amiss with her father, and immediately phoned the emergency services.

"Susan called the ambulance and they were very quick -- when I picked up the phone and didn't answer her she knew something was wrong. I couldn't talk."

Tommy was immediately rushed to Tallaght Hospital, where a doctor told him he'd had a stroke.

"I couldn't communicate, I was all over the place," he recalls.

"They kept me in for a week and I did every test under the sun."

The pensioner was delighted when he was eventually discharged from hospital -- but bad news awaited him at home:

"When I arrived home I was told my sister had passed away. I went from a high to a low. That was the worst time in my life.

"I'd been advised to go for speech therapy and I did six weeks of it," he says, but it emerged that the news of his sister's death -- they had been very close -- was affecting Tommy's recovery.

"I was very emotional, so the speech therapist suggested I get bereavement counselling because it was affecting my ability to benefit from the speech therapy."

Trinity College's Speech and Language Therapy Department had set up a special group, The Aphasia Advocacy for Access group, for a group of people with communication difficulties.

This group decided to hold their new training programme in a busy city centre coffee shop, Cup, on Dublin's Nassau street.

Members of the group designed a training programme for the staff of Cup cafe .

Irish Independent

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