Early help restores Maida Vale grandmother’s speech

Sally Attwater suffered some speech difficulty after a stroke but said the VERSE program had helped tremendously in rehabilitation. Picture: Bruce Hunt www.communitypix.com.au   d469926
Sally Attwater suffered some speech difficulty after a stroke but said the VERSE program had helped tremendously in rehabilitation. Picture: Bruce Hunt www.communitypix.com.au d469926

SALLY Attwater (77) felt herself slip into darkness and heard someone calling for an ambulance before losing consciousness at her regular card game last October.

She had suffered a stroke and the Maida Vale grandmother’s family were warned she may never speak again and would likely go into care.

“They put a wire up from my groin to my brain and they broke up two blood clots, so I was very lucky,” she said.

When Mrs Attwater woke the next morning, she surprised medical staff by offering a ‘fine, thank you’ when asked how she was doing.

“They were all so amazed that I was speaking, let alone being able to understand me in part,” she said.

About one-third of the 1000 Australians who suffer a stroke each week develop the language disorder aphasia, which for some makes speaking impossible.

“I would know what I wanted to say but it wouldn’t come out that way,” Mrs Attwater said.

“The first night my daughter said they couldn’t understand a word I said but I thought I was saying it right.

“Even now when my husband says to me ‘no’ and he corrects me I say ‘I didn’t say that, I said something else’, but that is not as often.”

An Edith Cowan University (ECU) speech pathology program is working to give people such as Mrs Attwater their speech back.

The Very Early Rehabilitation Speech (VERSE) project is examining the benefits of providing intensive aphasia therapy immediately after a stroke.

Project lead associate professor Erin Godecke said they believed there was a 90-day window of opportunity post-stroke where early intensive therapy enhanced natural repair.

“Early therapy is thought to give people with aphasia a head start in recovery while the brain is open to natural healing processes,” she said.

Mrs Attwater is now back playing canasta with friends twice a week and having long conversations with her children.

She said the speech therapy she received as part of the VERSE project had made a real difference.

“The project staff would come out three times a week to begin with and they worked me hard, but they worked incredibly hard as well; they were just fantastic,” she said.

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