Thursday, October 27, 2016

In the blink of an eye.......!

I was recently honored by an organization that treat individuals affected by Aphasia with their Advocacy Award for 2016. For those who don't know, Aphasia is a language disorder that results from damage to portions of the brain that are responsible for language. The disorder impairs both the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Fortunately Aphasia does not affect one's intellect.

Many times, the cause of the brain injury is a stroke that occurs when blood is unable to reach a part of the brain that controls speech and language. Other causes of brain injury are severe blows to the head, brain tumors, brain infections and other conditions of the brain. With that said, anyone can acquire Aphasia, but most people who have Aphasia are in their middle to late years. Men and women are equally affected. And, it is estimated that almost two million people in the United States currently have the condition.

I was introduced to this condition when I was a teenager. My father suffered 3 strokes over a period of several years. After each stroke I can remember times when he struggled to communicate with members of my family. I also remember the frustration he felt not being able to get the words out to convey his thoughts and wishes. Believe or not, my father was lucky because he eventually recovered from all 3 strokes. At that time I didn't know nor did I understand what he had experienced and I didn't know the name of the condition. I only knew that it was a stroke.



My second introduction to the condition was almost 15 years later when a former girlfriend from college suffered a stroke at the age of only 34. While she sustained a paralysis on her left side she also was diagnosed with Aphasia.  Now, every year we send each other birthday cards. With every card I receive from her I am reminded of her struggles to communicate.

My third and perhaps more personal introduction to Aphasia is one that hits home for me. At times during my professional football career I struggled to find the right words to complete my thoughts doing interviews with the media covering my team. I felt my own frustrations and even embarrassment but it was something I kept to myself.  While I was experiencing my own communication problem and while it was not on the same level as someone who suffered a catastrophic stroke or was in a near fatal automobile accident I eventually realized that my neurological issues were a result concussions sustained on the playing fields.

The experiences I've outlined have helped to fuel my desire to speak out on all Traumatic Brain Injury issues. A reason I felt compelled to share my thoughts on this topic is to emphasize that I know (at least to some degree) what it's like to literally lose my voice and become unable to express what I would like to say. But I also know that regardless of who you are, what gender, race, color, religion or how wealthy or poor you are, in the blink of an eye your life can be changed significantly. Life and the ailments that come with living do not discriminate. I know too many people who have been affected by a traumatic brain injury. Whether that TBI was initiated by a stroke, an automobile accident, from playing a contact sport or a bomb blast for a soldier, once your brain is injured you will most likely see the world from a much different perspective.

Unfortunately for many who read this, Aphasia and other Traumatic Brain Injuries will mean nothing, until they are affected......!  

-Harry

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