My Dad Had Aphasia, Let Me Explain It For You
I just read the horrible news that one of my favorite actors Bruce Willis is retiring from his professional career due to his suffering from the effects of aphasia. It's breaking my heart. I've had a lot of experience with this horrible medical condition, and I want to share my story so you may better understand what Willis is going through.
I woke up on a Sunday morning in November 2001 to my mom yelling downstairs for me to urgently get upstairs and take a look at my dad. He was sitting at the kitchen table, flexing his right hand, and making sounds that were more primal than English. His eyes were not able to focus, and he couldn't respond to direct questions. My dad had suffered a stroke in the left temporal lobe of his brain. A blood clot had blocked off the area of his brain that controlled his speech and cognitive abilities. He survived, but he was not the same afterwards, he was diagnosed with aphasia.
Aphasia is basically the loss of ability to understand or express speech, caused by brain damage. What aphasia did to my dad was take his ability away to say, write, or understand words correctly. For the unaffected, it's easy to say the word dog, but for my dad, he might call it an egg, or bark, instead of saying "Dog". He couldn't ask me to get him a chair, or how I was doing today. It was horrible.
My dad went through months and months of physical and speech therapy at Gaylord Hospital in Wallingford, and eventually, regained some of his ability to communicate with us. That is not the case for most suffering from aphasia. One of the physical therapists at Gaylord told me that my dad's stroke was "a glancing blow" to his left temporal lobe, and most who had suffered strokes in that same area completely lost their ability to speak and understand words.
Bruce Willis always reminded me of my dad, they were both former bartenders and loved entertaining and making people laugh. My dad had just retired from Southbury Training School after working there for close to 15 years, within 6 months of his retirement party, he lost the ability to express himself through speech and the written word. For someone who has entertained millions over the course of his career with his wit and talent, it's got to be devastating for Willis and his family. To not be able to read a script, or recite the words in order must have driven him mad.
More than 1,000,000 million people in the US suffer from aphasia, with nearly 180,000 more diagnosed every year. It's horrible, and I hope that your family never has to deal with it.