Aphasia Center ready to help community

June is National Aphasia Awareness Month, and more than 2.5 million Americans – including actor Bruce Willis and country music star Randy Travis – suffer from the communication impairment. Aphasia affects a person’s expression and understanding of language, as well as the ability to read and write.

“Aphasia can occur when the language centers of the brain are damaged due to a stroke or other brain injury,” Kitty Binek, executive director of the Aphasia Center of West Texas, explained in a news release.

Approximately one in three stroke survivors is diagnosed with aphasia.

Twenty years ago, Midlander Gary Davis collapsed in his garden after an aneurysm ruptured in his brain. He survived a coma and was hospitalized for five terrifying weeks.

Doctors told Gary’s wife Ronnie, and adult daughter Teresa Davis Hansen, that he would never be the same. They were urged to explore nursing home options because he would probably remain in a vegetative state.

But Davis, an avid outdoorsman and Vietnam veteran, had other plans. The aneurysm left him partially paralyzed and greatly impacted his ability to speak, but he wasn’t ready to give up.

Davis completed a year of physical therapy through the Veterans Administration hospital, then the family found the Aphasia Center of West Texas.

Binek, who described Davis as the longest-attending member, said the center has served the entire Permian Basin for over 20 years. She said she hopes more West Texans follow in Gary’s footsteps.

“When left untreated, aphasia can become a devastating condition because it affects a person’s ability to communicate with family, friends and caregivers, making it difficult to maintain relationships and participate in daily activities. The Aphasia Center of West Texas is a safe place to access a network of support,” Binek said.

There, clients and their loved ones learn aphasia communication strategies and practical tips for living with aphasia. Members pay a low monthly fee to attend, and scholarships are available to those who qualify.

“Our programs offer a variety of activities to learn and practice adaptive communication techniques, develop meaningful friendships, and regain independence. The goal is to enhance life participation by using a holistic approach to overcome communication barriers,” Binek added.

Program offerings are anchored by conversation groups and expand to include communication skill development and practical communication required during a variety of activities. Activities include gardening, music, cooking and more. They are chosen based on members’ interests and goals. Conversations are facilitated by trained staff and volunteers and are structured to allow members a chance to share ideas, thoughts and opinions. Skills groups are focused on helping members reach their personal goals in reading, writing comprehension and expression, the release said.

Aphasia knows no boundaries of age, gender, wealth, race or profession. Although adults with aphasia have their intelligence intact, misjudgment from others routinely leaves people with aphasia excluded and marginalized.

Without the ability to participate in everyday conversations, almost every activity and life role is at risk.

“Depression and isolation are common in the aftermath of aphasia. The people and programs here at the Aphasia Center of West Texas empower aphasia survivors to engage in life again,” Binek said.

The staff and programs at the center offered hope for the Davis family.

“The Aphasia Center gave Gary a place to go where he could be with others and make friends that had the same concerns,” Ronnie Davis said, “and gave me a chance as a caregiver to go have the time to do the things that I needed to do.”

The center also holds support classes and shares informative resources for family and friends because aphasia impacts more than just the person with aphasia.

Hansen said she would encourage anyone affected by aphasia to seek the center’s help.

“The Aphasia Center has allowed my parents and other people with the same disabilities to see that they still can have a life … it might not be the life that they would have had but it’s just as good of a life,” Hansen said in the release. “They’ve made some amazing friends and it’s been a huge support for our entire family.”

If you would like more information about aphasia and the services at the Aphasia Center of West Texas, please contact Program Director Beth Crawford at (432) 699-1261 or visit www.acwtx.org.