Sunday, April 29, 2007

Women give aphasia patients place to turn

Pair honored for work with those who can't comprehend language

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Marilyn Certner Smith has devoted her life to making "aphasia" a household word.

"It's an unusual word, and most people don't know what to make of it,"Certner Smith said. "And even with the definition, it's hard for people to grasp it."

Aphasia is the loss of the ability to produce or comprehend language, and typically is caused by a stroke, brain injury or a tumor. There are more than 80,000 cases diagnosed nationwide each year, affecting more people than Parkinson's disease.

Certner Smith, 54, of Madison, and Shirley Morganstein of Montclair were honored on Friday by the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association for co-founding Speaking of Aphasia, a program that helps patients cope with the disorder. It is the top statewide honor that a speech pathologist can receive, according to NJSLHA's Monique S. Kaye.

"People with aphasia would have nowhere else to turn," Kaye said. "You don't typically see this in a hospital or rehab setting. (People with aphasia) become isolated, but this program gets people together and makes them feel more confident."

Identity blocker

Living with aphasia is like waking up in a foreign country where you can't communicate with anyone. It affects the ability to speak, read, write, understand and use nonverbal communication in varying ways.

The common woe everyone with the disorder shares is that it "strikes the core of who you are as a person," Certner Smith said. "If you have trouble talking, you have trouble showing who you are, because it makes it that much harder to connect with people."

Three years ago, Certner Smith and Morganstein left high-paying jobs -- Certner Smith as the director of rehabilitation at the Kessler Institute --because they missed patient contact, so they created Speaking of Aphasia.

Speaking of Aphasia, based in Montclair, offers one-on-one and group programs for people with aphasia and their communication partners. It also trains speech pathologists to mimic the work that she and Morganstein perform.

Philosophy of treatment

"It's a philosophy of treatment that aims to improve the quality of life, not just communication with people who have aphasia," Certner Smith said. "We look at what people want to do and what people can do instead of looking at obstacles and hardship."

The outcome for each patient is different, she said. Some return to work and others redefine new opportunities for themselves.

Certner Smith has lived with her husband, Jeff, and son, Alex, in Madison for 11 years. When she's not reading or writing about aphasia -- which isn't often, she said -- she enjoys reading fiction, jogging, cooking and spending time with her family.

Certner Smith received a bachelor of arts degree in speech pathology from Ithaca College and a master of arts degree in speech pathology from the University of Illinois. She learned about the field in an introduction to communications course during her freshman year of college and it "instantly clicked," she said.

"It's a wonderful mix of linguistics, medical aspects and education," Certner Smith added.

Although she has performed much research and published numerous articles on aphasia during the past 30 years, she doesn't consider herself an expert.

"I'm still learning," Certner Smith said. "I've had an interesting journey, and I'm just grateful for the opportunity to work with such amazing people. They inspire me to be more open to what matters most in life, and to be more mindful of daily experiences -- you can't help but be moved."

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Swift action, swift recovery

CAPTION: Jane Nordberg/Daily Mining Gazette

Gene Niedholdt works in his office at Dave’s Auto Service in Laurium. The business owner suffered a stroke in late March and is taking steps to reduce his future risks.


LAURIUM — March 30 started out like any other day for Gene Niedholdt.

He dropped his wife, Peg, off at work around 7:30 a.m. and headed to his office at Dave’s Auto Service, the Laurium business he owns and operates.

Gene answered a phone call from a customer wanting an estimate on a vehicle repair, but found he suddenly couldn’t figure out what it was the customer was talking about.

“You better take this,” he said to his daughter, Laura, who works by his side in the office. “This guy is giving me his phone number and I can’t understand him.”

Laura looked at the work order her father had started to fill out and knew immediately that something was very wrong.

“Normally he does his own work orders,” she said. “But within the first 20 minutes of coming to work he couldn’t read what he had written, and he couldn’t understand the words the customer was saying.”

In losing the ability to understand words, Gene was experiencing one of the seven main symptoms of a stroke. Laura finished with the customer and immediately called her mother to tell her that something was wrong.

“Get him to the hospital,” Peg said quickly, and when Laura told her dad to get in the car, he didn’t argue.

“He was more concerned for the business, but I was concerned about his health,” Peg said.

She had every right to be concerned.

Gene had experienced a stroke, the number one cause of adult disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States.

According to the American Stroke Foundation, a stroke is sometimes referred to as a brain attack because it impacts the brain in much the same way a heart attack impacts the heart. Every stroke is different and is largely dependent upon the area of the brain affected and the length of time that area is without oxygen.

An hour after his first symptoms appeared, Gene lost the ability to speak.

Oddly, Gene had none of the other symptoms typically associated with a stroke: sudden weakness in the limbs, numbness on one side of the face or body, loss of vision in one eye, having trouble walking, feeling dizzy and losing balance and severe headache.

“The doctors must have asked me 20 times if I had a headache, but I felt absolutely fine,” Gene said.

Physicians at Keweenaw Memorial Medical Center in Laurium responded immediately by administering a battery of tests and consulting with neurologists at Marquette General Hospital.

Gene was diagnosed with Broca’s Aphasia, named after Paul Broca (1824-1880), a French neurologist who first concluded that the integrity of the left frontal convolution was responsible and necessary for articulate speech. That region of the brain is thus named “Broca’s convolution,” or the “motor speech area.”

Gene was kept for observation overnight, but experienced no further symptoms. He was released on Saturday, when he promptly returned to the shop to check on the business left in Laura’s care all day Friday.

“Just to show you how dedicated these guys are,” he said of the employees in his shop. “They all came in to see if she needed any help. The community support has been absolutely terrific.”

Gene was lucky in that his symptoms were relatively mild at the onset and have gradually diminished. Physicians told the family that their quick action was key, as the longer the elapsed time before treatment, the greater the loss of brain function.

In some instances, a clot-busting drug can be administered to diminish the effects of a stroke. However, there is only a three-hour window in which the drug can be administered.

The Niedholdts declined the drug treatment for various reasons, but are confident their quick action helped to save Gene’s quality of life.

“They kept telling us that we did the right thing by bringing him in so quickly,” Peg said. “Time is really vital in responding to a stroke or a possible stroke.”

A CT scan showed the point when Gene’s brain was deprived of oxygen, but the cause may never be known. His recovery includes a strict sodium-free diet, visits to an occupational therapist twice weekly, a daily siesta and a general warning to slow down.

“I don’t know what to say except that we were truly blessed,” Peg said.

“Blessed that Laura acted so quickly, blessed to have the excellent care we did, and blessed to have loyal and caring employees and customers.”

No one knows that better than Gene.

“I’m here and able to function as well as I am because all of that came together,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

The University of Michigan Aphasia Program News

Emmy and Tony Award-winning Actress Julie Harris to Headline University of Michigan Aphasia Program Event

ANN ARBOR, Mich., April 25 PRNewswire-USNewswireJulie Harris, one of the most awarded actresses of the stage and screen, will headline the University of Michigan Aphasia Program's (UMAP) 60th anniversary fundraising event, "It's a RAP: 60 Year Celebration of the University of Michigan Aphasia Program." The event also includes an exclusive screening of her new movie, "The Way Back Home," in which Ms. Harris portrays a woman who had a stroke. The event will take place June 1-2, 2007.

Julie Harris, 81, is a former client of the University of Michigan Aphasia Program ( She attended the program in May 2006 as part of her recovery from a stroke and resulting aphasia that occurred in May 2001.

Ms. Harris is regarded as the most respected and honored stage actress in America and is the most honored performer in Tony history with 10 nominations and five victories (1952, 1956, 1969, 1973 and 1977). She is the only actress to date to receive 10 nominations and received a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. During her acting career, she won three Emmys (1962, 1969 and 2000). Television fans of "Knots Landing" remember her fondly in the role of Lilimae Clemens. She was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts in 1994 by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. and was a recipient of 2005 Kennedy Center Honors, along with Robert Redford, Tina Turner, Tony Bennett and Suzanne Farrell. She was born in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

The University of Michigan Aphasia Program attracts clients from across the United States and other countries due to its unique approach to aphasia therapy. It is an intensive program, with clients participating in six-week sessions, receiving 23-hours of therapy each week. Therapy is conducted by clinically-trained professional speech language pathologists (not students), offering an individualized therapy program with a limited number of participants to ensure a high ratio of staff-to-clients for the most effective one-on-one treatment.

Aphasia is an acquired language disorder that results from damage to parts of the brain. Stroke is the leading cause; however, it also can result from brain tumors, head injuries, brain infections, and other conditions of the brain. People with aphasia know what they want to say but cannot always get out the words. It can affect talking, understanding, reading and writing. Memory and thinking also can be reduced. An estimated one million Americans of all ages have aphasia.

The two-day event begins the afternoon of June 1 with informational workshops on the latest in stroke and aphasia research and therapy featuring Dr. Jennifer Majersik of the University of Michigan Stroke Center, and Dr. David Steinberg, Medical Director for Rehabilitation Services, St. Joseph Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The workshops will take place at the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest.

On the evening of June 1, there will be a special exclusive first public screening of Julie Harris' new movie, "The Way Back Home," which will take place at the historic Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor, Michigan ( Also attending the event will be producer Michael H. King, who will introduce Ms. Harris, and the movie, to the audience.

On Saturday, June 2, morning and afternoon workshops will focus on the latest technology to help clients and family members; multi-modal communication techniques; music and art therapy; and, caregiver support. On the evening of June 2 a gala reception will be held to honor Ms. Harris, and will include a special VIP reception where guests will have the opportunity to meet Julie Harris. All events on June 2 will take place at the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest.

For more information, visit the UMAP website at or call (734) 764-8440.

The University of Michigan Aphasia Program was established in 1947 to assist World War II veterans who sustained injuries in combat. It is the oldest, most effective program of its kind for the treatment of aphasia in the United States. The program has successfully treated thousands of individuals with aphasia. UMAP's intensive program provides its clients with as much therapy during a six-week session as a person would receive in one year of traditional therapy. More information about the University of Michigan Aphasia Program can be found at

SOURCE The University of Michigan Aphasia Program

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Organize a Fundraising Event

National Stroke Association's mission to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke is helped by fundraising events planned by people whose lives have been touched by stroke -- people just like you.

Each year many people plan, participate in, and contribute to community fundraising events to increase awareness of stroke and raise money that allows National Stroke Association to achieve its mission.

Examples of past events range from fashion shows and high school plays to sporting events such as motorcycle runs, walks, swims, and marathons.
Read more about past events.

Each event is unique because it has your personal touch -- you come up with the fundraising idea, you share your particular experience with stroke, and you reach out to your own network of friends, family and community.

Whether you're planning or contributing to such an event, National Stroke Association can help you...

We can promote your event...

We can provide you with educational materials...

We can facilitate the donation process...

We invite you to join National Stroke Association in our efforts to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by planning a fundraising event of your own.
For more information, please contact:
Carol Griffin (303) 754-0917

Wednesday, April 11, 2007