Taking the Bulls by the Horns

This article originally appeared in Stroke Connection – American Stroke Association – Jan./Feb. 2004

Now 10 years later, I present a story about determination, willpower and a “can do” attitude for people who have aphasia. Anyone, my opinion, can achieve almost anything if you have a good attitude and persistence no matter what the circumstances. I hope you enjoy my article…

In 1991, at age 27, I had a massive stroke that paralyzed my entire right side and left me unable to communicate. I was in a coma in intensive care for a week, barely alive. My neurologist saved my life, prescribing drugs that reduced the swelling in my brain, but the side effects were substantial. I could no longer walk, talk, read or write. I would have to re-learn everything.

Once my survival was assured, my family asked the doctor what was next for me. The doctor wasn’t very encouraging. He said that I would only have about 50 percent of my speech, if it came back at all. He predicted that I’d never work again and that I would always be in a wheelchair.

It was a long time after the stroke before my family told me what the doctor had said. Part of me thought it would be nice, I could eat bonbons and watch TV for the rest of my life. But most of me was really depressed because of the struggles I knew lay ahead.

I thought about my well being and commitment to making things right and I knew that I was going to be better no matter what the cost. I had an imprint on my heart, to make a mark on the world, no matter what. Everyone eventually has to take the bull by the horns and decide that you can do this, you can actually create something magnificent, if you pay attention, work hard and have a little luck. It’s mind over matter, you can do it.

Since my stroke, I am very hungry to succeed. One of my missions in life is to be disciplined. I spent years in physical, occupational and speech therapy making things better in my life progressing by peaks and valleys; sometimes I make incredible strides quickly, other times it is very slow. But like a marathon runner, l keep on running, striding and succeeding.

Communication was my most important step. Not too long ago, I could only say two words: pen and no. I geared myself to practice very hard until my words were flowing again. I did countless grammar exercises and used the dictionary to broaden my vocabulary. Eventually I could correct my own mistakes. I can listen to my speech and make sure the words that I say and the words that come out are the same. What a relief!

Today, at 40, I am a professional speaker and change-management specialist. I derive great joy from inspiring others to change, whether they have a disability or not. In my presentations, I teach my audience to use patience to empower others to peak performance, to put Others first and to find the strength to ask for help.

To sum this up, you have the energy to make everything possible! Practice, practice, practice. Be disciplined. Have fun. The rest is up to you!