Minn. Mom Shares Struggles of Aphasia

Updated: 06/30/2014 11:08 AM
Created: 06/19/2014 8:25 AM
By: Naomi Pescovitz

Imagine waking up in the morning, unable to talk, express yourself or communicate. Inside, however, you are still the same person.

It's a frustrating condition called aphasia, often caused by a stroke. Around 200,000 Americans get the disorder every year.

June is Aphasia Awareness Month and one of the world's only intensive treatment programs is at North Memorial Health Care.

On Thanksgiving weekend in 2010, Candee Cundy woke up paralyzed.

"I tried to get up. And I tried to get up and I didn't get up," Cundy said.

Hours later, the mother of three was at the hospital suffering from a stroke caused by a tear in an artery on the left side of her head.

Cundy's right side was frozen and her ability to communicate was shattered.

"I could pick out some main nouns and some main verbs, but they might not necessarily be in order," Cundy said.

Cundy now eloquently compares her brain with aphasia to a filing cabinet dumped out on the floor.

"All of my information was there. All my papers, all the file drawers were all there. But it was a matter of therapists working with me to open my filing cabinet, to open my brain, and to pick up all the papers, and to pick up all the files and to organize everything in the filing cabinet," Cundy said.

At 41-years-old, Cundy has re-learned everything from walking to talking. Her filing cabinet is mostly back in place and she now volunteers North Memorial's intensive rehabilitation program for aphasia.

The program lasts three to four weeks. Patients work on their recovery every day with flash cards, computers and iPads.

North Memorial's program is only one of a handful in the country. There are only about a dozen worldwide.

"The younger the patient, the more the chances of recovery because younger patients have more plasticity in their brain," said Dr. Irfan Altafullah, Medical Director of North Memorial's Stroke Program.

Cundy's voice is back and she uses it to explain what aphasia means.

"Their intellect is intact, they just have lost some ability to be able to communicate, to put thoughts into words, to be able to express themselves with their language," Cundy said.

Today, Cundy's words make a statement and a difference.

"I still have days where my balance might be off, where I might say some unusual things to my kids. But my kids have sort of gotten used to that just being the way mom is," Cundy said.

North Memorial's intensive aphasia program has treated almost 200 patients, ranging in age from 20 to 79 years old.

More than a quarter of all stroke sufferers will get aphasia, impacting one in 250 Americans.

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