Regaining the Gift of Speech

Therapists help patients learn to speak, eat

By Pamela Bond

Victoria Advocate

May 20, 2008

Speech pathologists Meredith Potts and Allie Atkinson say most people don’t understand what they actually do.

“Not everybody knows that we help with cognition and swallowing,” Potts said. “Doctors don’t necessarily know what all we can help with. People should understand that if they or their family have a problem, they can request a referral for therapy from their local doctor.”

During May, which is nationally-recognized as Speech and Hearing Month by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, Potts and Atkinson are speaking out about their work and its benefits.

“We have a great job,” Potts said. “It affects a whole lot of people and a lot of people don’t know what’s available. There’s a whole gamut of possibilities.”

Potts, the out-patient therapist at Warm Springs in Victoria, sees about six to seven patients a day ranging from infants to the elderly. Her therapy usually includes the evaluation and treatment of speech, language, voice, swallowing and augmentative communication.

Potts and Atkinson work with patients with stroke, dementia, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Cerebral Palsy and developmental delays and disabilities, among others. The most common conditions Potts sees are aphasia, a disorder that results from damage to the parts of the brain that contain language, and apraxia, a motor speech disorder caused by damage to the parts of the brain related to speaking.

Nathan Lytle has both. Lytle fell off a ladder in June 2007 and has a plate in his skull to cover the hole left by the accident. At first, he was not expected to live. A year later, and two months into his therapy at Warm Springs, Lytle and his speech are constantly improving.

“Speech was the hardest thing for me,” Lytle said. “I wanted to get better so I could express myself, which I do a lot of. I want to talk and make sense and read again. They help me put it all together. They’re my teachers.”

Most of Lytle’s therapy focuses on speech as well as thought organization, planning and reading comprehension and accuracy, Potts said. She built his therapy sessions, which he attends two times a week, around his goal to write a book, and he does a lot of work on his own time too.

“I’m using my testimony through what’s happened, trying to see blessings through the pain,” Lytle said. “I’m working on the book for other people. It’s very hard at any age. I get overwhelmed a lot, but you can’t let yourself get depressed. You have to have goals.”

Atkinson, the inpatient therapist at Warm Springs, mostly works on swallowing therapies with her patients, who sometimes have tracheotomies and ventilators. Her therapy often helps people learn to speak and eat again. She normally treats seven to 10 patients a day.

Like Lytle, Louis Baldaramos, a 49-year-old maintenance worker for Kenedy school district, was not expected to live when had a serious stroke in his brain stem. He is now recovering and his wife, Alicia Baldaramos, said it’s a miracle that he’s making little improvements every day.

Atkinson works with Louis Baldaramos five times a week, treating him for dysphagia, a swallowing disorder, and dysarthria, a motor speech disorder. Through nueromuscular stimulation, Atkinson is helping Baldaramos swallow and he can now eat regular foods, which have been modified for safety. His favorite is chocolate pudding and he works at his therapy sessions so he can go home, he said.

“We thought it would never happen to us,” Alicia Baldaramos said. “It’s hardest at a younger age because he wants to go back to work. It’s hard to recognize his voice, but it’s a lot better. He can say ‘I love you’ and that’s all that matters.”

Atkinson and Potts would like to start a local organization with the speech pathologists and audiologists in the area. They are hosting a social event to get support and any speech professionals who did not receive an invitation can call Potts at 361-576-6200.

The purpose of the group would be to provide networking and continuing education opportunities for speech professionals as well as community service projects, such as holding fund-raisers to help patients and raising awareness of speech disorders. Potts said that the group would benefit patients as well because area speech therapists would know each other’s specialities and could refer patients.

“We talk about communication lightly, but when it’s taken away, it changes your way of life,” Potts said.

“We take it for granted,” Lytle agreed. “I never thought it would be me. I’d never heard of aphasia before, but it’s a big deal. I want other people to know about this.”

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