Jan Thomas's Why




It was December 28, 2010, the time of year when many people indulge with abandon, but Jan Thomas resisted. Instead, she spent her lunch break in the office gym, just as she did two or three times every week.

Jan was a partner in a large law firm in Richmond, Virginia, specializing in mergers-and-acquisitions. "My clients kept me busy, and I relished the midday opportunity to keep fit and burn off some steam," she said.

On that day she was squeezing in a workout before a 2 p.m. meeting, but shortly after she began peddling the stationary bike, she lost consciousness.

She woke up in the hospital, terribly confused and unable to speak. She didn’t know that she had had a stroke and with it, aphasia.

Jan was determined to return to work, but seven weeks of inpatient rehab turned into eight months of outpatient speech, physical and occupational therapy. She learned to walk again, use her paralyzed right arm and communicate despite aphasia. But the longer rehab lasted, the more she realized she was not ready to go back to work — and might never be.

Spasticity is another deficit of her stroke, which limits her ability to drive. As a result, she and her husband Brent moved from their home on 9 acres outside of Richmond to a condo in the city. "Even now four years after the stroke, spasticity in my right foot and arm limits me to local routes and shorter periods behind the wheel," Jan said.

Being at home was isolating, so when she received a call from her speech therapist that a support group for people with aphasia was forming, Jan told her she wanted to join. "Some of us could talk, some couldn’t, but everybody could understand what each other was going through," Jan said. At the second meeting, she was asked to be president.

"It’s really heartrending to think that these are people who have so much to give but can’t because their language is compromised," Jan said. "I don’t want to say it’s the worst, but it’s incredibly frustrating not being able to communicate easily. It’s a big part of what it means to be human." It is her observation that people with aphasia often take up something visual — painting or photography — because they have so much to share. "We want to contribute to society, we just need a little help to get there. I hope I have a long time to live, but I don’t want to spend my last years isolated. I want to see and do things."

As a group, they came to the conclusion that education is paramount for getting people to understand aphasia, and in that way they could combat the isolation. "Most people have never even heard of aphasia," Jan said. "I certainly hadn’t and not many in our group had heard of it before they acquired it."

The group wanted to find a way to help others with aphasia be better understood so they came up with the idea of doing a documentary video. The result is an 18-minute video titled, "Patience, Listening and Communicating with Aphasia Patients."

The purpose of the video is to educate the general population so that they understand what aphasia is and what the communication needs of people with aphasia are.

"We want to facilitate communication between the typical person and ourselves. For instance, we don’t need people to speak louder; aphasia isn’t about hearing. What we need is for them to speak more slowly," she said. "At other times survivors with aphasia can’t find the right word and need help — and patience — from the listener. Sometimes we have to talk around the right word. We have things to say but it takes understanding both ways to create successful communication."

The documentary has had a great response. "I think part of it is that the documentary fills a need — people really don’t know much about aphasia.

"Our group is dedicated to creating a world where we can contribute, but we need a little help, patience and understanding to get there. That is my why."

Watch Patience, Listening and Communicating with aphasia patients:

 

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AHA-ASA Resources

The Support Network

When faced with challenges recovering from heart disease or stroke, it’s important to have emotional support. That is why we created a network to connect patients and loved ones with others during their journey.

Stroke Family Warmline

The Warmline connects stroke survivors and their families with an ASA team member who can provide support, helpful information or just a listening ear.

Let's Talk About Stroke Patient Information Sheets

Let's Talk About Stroke is a series of downloadable patient information sheets, created by the American Stroke Association, that presents information in a question-and-answer format that's brief, easy to follow and easy to read.

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Fill out this online form to request free information about a variety of post-stroke topics.

Caregiver Guide to Stroke

The Caregiver Guide to Stroke is meant to help caregivers better navigate the recovery process and the financial and social implications of a stroke.

Tips for Daily Living Library

This volunteer-powered library gathers tips and ideas from stroke survivors, caregivers and healthcare professionals all over the country who’ve created or discovered adaptive and often innovative ways to get things done!

Stroke Support Group Finder

To find a group near you, simply enter your ZIP code and a mile radius. If your initial search does not pull up any groups, try
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Stroke & Parts of the Brain

When Stroke Affects the Temporal Lobe

The temporal lobe has several functions, mainly involved with memory, perception and language.

When Stroke Affects the Brain Stem

The brain stem serves as a bridge in the nervous system. It sits at the top of the spinal column in the center of the brain. When a stroke happens there, it can cause a few different deficits and, in the most severe cases, can lead to locked-in syndrome.

When Stroke Affects the Thalamus

The thalamus can be thought of as a "relay station," receiving signals from the brain’s outer regions (cerebral cortex), interpreting them, then sending them to other areas of the brain to complete their job.
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Articles, poems and art submitted by stroke survivors and their loved ones.

Life Is Why

Everyone has a reason to live a longer, healthier life. These stroke survivors, caregivers and others share their 'whys'. We'd love for you to share yours, too!

Everyday Survival

Practical tips and advice for day-to day living after stroke.

Life At The Curb

A unique perspective on survival by comedian and stroke survivor John Kawie.

Simple Cooking

Cooking at home can be a daunting task, but a rewarding one for your diet and lifestyle (and your wallet). Making small changes in your diet is important to your heart health. Here are simple, healthy and affordable recipes and cooking tips.

Support Showcase

Our new department highlighting the good work being done by stroke support groups from around the nation. If you are part of a successful support group we should consider featuring, let us know!