hough her words are slow and deliberate, there
is a lilting, lyrical quality to her voice. The
words sometimes come intermittently, perhaps
with fewer inflections and more pauses than
most everyday conversations, but there is beauty
in the imperfections.
For Phyllis Weiss, a 65-year-old survivor from Winthrop
Harbor, Illinois, each sound she painstakingly — but
patiently — forms is a triumph. In her quiet, halting
delivery is an underlying strength and vitality. Qualities that
carried her through an entire year of silence.
“I felt like a prisoner in my own body,” Phyllis said.
“Not to say a single word … for weeks and months on end.
Imagine not being able to speak your own son’s name or tell
your husband you love him while your mind is completely
intact and functioning just fine.”
ONE SUMMER NIGHT
On the evening of August 21, 2007, Phyllis and her
husband, Fritz, headed to bed after a day of playing
catch-up following a two-week family vacation in Colorado.
Despite the long drive back to Illinois and an afternoon full
of grocery shopping and errand running that threatened to
sap her energy, she was elated and anticipating the next
chapter in her family’s life. During the trip, their son, Justin,
had proposed to his girlfriend, Lisa.
“In years past, we always went to Colorado. Skiing
in the winter, hiking and biking in the summer,” Phyllis
said. “Justin has a favorite spot up in the mountains with a
waterfall, and he took her there to pop the question. Oh, it
was just beautiful and wonderful.
“We went to bed expectant,” she added. “My mind was
already on the wedding. We couldn’t wait to celebrate.”
“I remember part of it. I remember him saying ‘Don’t
leave me!’ I still cry thinking about it after that many years,”
Phyllis said. “But the rest of the night is all a blur.”
She had had an ischemic stroke.
CLUES TO THE CAUSE
Phyllis had long been hyperaware of the importance
of monitoring her body. Her mother died of a stroke.
Additionally, her father died of heart disease, and her
brother has had multiple bypasses. Given the family history,
she worked hard to minimize other risk factors such as high
cholesterol, which she was diligently regulating through
medication. She maintained a healthy diet and worked out
five days a week, running and bicycling incessantly. But the
uncooperative arteries in her brain had other plans.
SURVIVOR FINDS HER VOICE
BY JESSICA YOUNG