The Stroke Aphasia Recovery Program at Texas Tech’s Health Sciences Center is now 20 years old and the growth of the community outreach effort reflects the need for Lubbock area residents who’ve exhausted their health coverage benefits. The program helps people continue therapy toward recovering their ability to speak, understand, read write and calculate.
“We welcome everybody, we don’t ever dismiss someone. We use what’s called a life participation approach to Aphasia. So the person is very much in charge of his or her own life and they dictate how long they want to come and what goals they want to address.”
That’s Melinda Corwin, the director of the program and a professor in Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences. She began the Stroke Aphasia Recovery program, known as STAR, after a speech and language pathologist at a Lubbock hospital called her in 1997.
“People were leaving the hospital, going home and doing nothing,” she explains. “She said they need a place to go, they need hope, they need something to work on.”
When the program began in 1998 as the Aphasia Group Therapy Program, there were three stroke survivors and five volunteer helpers. Corwin was the only clinical supervisor. Now, there are 40 stroke survivors with aphasia, five clinical supervisors, 20 graduate speech language pathology students and 25 caregivers.
Corwin says the program size surprises colleagues from around the country when she attends national conferences.
“I think it’s been a good rate for what it is. In terms of service for people with Aphasia, we’re pretty large. When I go to national conventions and share that we have ten small groups, and a total of 65 members involved between people with Aphasia and caregivers, they say ‘wow you guys really do do things bigger in Texas.’”
Not everyone who suffers a stroke has aphasia, which is caused by damage to the left hemisphere of the brain, impairing language skills. Most in the program are stroke survivors with aphasia, but it also includes people with Primary Progressive Aphasia, which is an early form of dementia, and traumatic brain and gunshot injuries.
Corwin says the medical community has done a good job of raising awareness of stroke symptoms. But an attack on the brain, which is what a stroke is, can come from underlying conditions.
“However, the prevalence of stroke is still quite huge because of our epidemics with diabetes, heart disease, which are two things that place people at higher risk for having a stroke or a brain attack. So, because of that there are over two million people in the US living with Aphasia,” she says.
Corwin says she proud that the STAR program doesn’t charge members for help. At its inception, the program was going to bill for aphasia therapy. But after one man who was opening his wallet to pay said he needed to have enough left to buy groceries, the program went a different direction. The Adult Patient Services Endowment Fund picks up the cost of supplies and materials, and the health sciences center absorbs other costs, including part of Corwin’s salary.
“They join our program, just like you would join a swim club or community club and that’s what allows us to publish a community calendar that has all their names and numbers because they become very good friends and they exchange phone numbers. We wouldn’t be able to do that if they were medical patients and we were dealing with medical records and HIPAA.”
Members and caregivers meet for nine months.
There is also a summer art program in June, Aphasia Awareness month, which Corwin says has been very successful. A community concert concludes this year’s summer program and is scheduled for 6 p.m. June 14 at Quaker Avenue Church of Christ, which donates use of its building.
“The idea behind the summer arts program is to use the right hemisphere—Music, tangible, tactical art—to mediate language and communication and to communicate in different ways. So I have people who may not be able to speak, but when I add rhythm and melody, they sing every word to every song,” she says.