Because Phyllis experienced the stroke in her sleep
and the timing couldn’t be pinpointed, she wasn’t a
candidate for tPA.
The stroke severely injured her speech center.
The bubbly career woman was suddenly forced to
communicate only with her eyes and through makeshift
sign language and movement. It took some time before
she even regained enough fine-motor skills to write
or type again — this time, with her left hand. Doctors
couldn’t tell her if she’d ever talk again.
Luckily the movement in her right foot and leg started
to come back after a few days, but she still has weakness on
that side of her body and does daily therapy at home on her
right hand, arm and shoulder.
After five days in the hospital, Phyllis was transferred for
a three-week inpatient rehabilitation stint. When that was
done, she headed to outpatient therapy at the Rehabilitation
Institute of Chicago (RIC) Northbrook, where she began
the fight of her life. The half-marathons and 100-mile-
a-day bike rides she had logged over the years paled in
comparison to the battle to reclaim her voice.
“Fritz went in there and said ‘My wife has requested
the hardest and strictest therapist here,’” she said. “I am
a competitor, and I enjoy the challenge. I didn’t want a
therapist who would coddle me, pat me on the head and
give me a pass.”
THE GRIND OF MOVING FORWARD
To combat her apraxia, which makes it difficult for the
brain’s instructions to be understood and carried out by a
person’s speech muscles, Phyllis spent years in intensive
therapy, where language had to start essentially back at
Even after she graduated to outpatient therapy, Phyllis
worked herself to the bone. For three years, her husband
dropped her off at RIC Northbrook at 7: 30 a.m. and
picked her up around 3: 30 p.m. or 4 p.m. on his way
to and from work in Wilmette. Five days a week, she
resolutely completed her pronunciation drills with Fritz in
the car on both drives.
Therapy was scheduled from 8 a.m. to 11: 30 a.m., at
which point she was usually so tired she could hardly eat
her lunch. But she’d hurriedly inhale her meal and spend
the rest of the hour-long break in the gym on the treadmill,
exercising to will herself back into running shape. Then the
afternoon speech sessions would start, lasting until it was
time to clock out. At home, she gave herself a reprieve only
long enough to wolf down some dinner.
“The day-to-day grind of it was exhausting. It was a full-
time job — more than a full-time job, actually. I struggled
from morning until night, went to bed and started all over
again the next day,” Phyllis said. “I thought to myself ‘I’m a
fighter, and I will learn to talk.’ Fritz and I never gave up.”
Retraining her speech muscles to emit certain sounds
was no easy feat. For an agonizingly long time, the only
word she could verbalize was “yes” despite the fact that her
memory and mental vocabulary were unimpaired.
Practice assignments included the repetition of the
“ee oh ee oh” phonetics and listening to the monotonous
dialogue on the computer. Phyllis’s dearest friend, Jane
Dorey, spoke into a tape recorder, carefully enunciating the
numbers one through 10, or important words such as the
BEEN SHY. I DON’T
FOR THE INABILITY
TO SPEAK, AND I’M
PROUD OF THAT.”