I graduated college from Cornell University. I was studying Human Development. Then I worked for Human Resources at Merrill Lynch. I went back to school and got my Masters in Elementary Education at Hunter College. During this time, I worked part-time, as a teaching assistant in a first grade classroom. I always wanted to work with people and help them in any way that I could. I worked as a public school teacher and taught first and second grade. I loved being a teacher and helping the children reach their fullest potential. I taught general education in first grade. I taught at a program with an integrated co-teaching model, that included about 60% general education students and about 40% special education, These were second grade children. All these children were in class together.
I worked as a teacher for about 8 years and then on September 28th, 2013, I had a stroke. I was 36 years old at the time. The day before this I had a bad headache and went to my primary care doctor who took blood work, but no diagnosis was given. The next day, I had to cancel on my friend’s son’s birthday party because I just wasn’t feeling right and decided to spend the day resting. All I remember, is being on the floor for hours and not being able to get to the phone and call for help. My mom and dad tried calling but didn’t get an answer. My parents felt like something was wrong, so they got a key and came in to check on me. It was 12:00am and they found me on the ground and called 911. I remember being in the ambulance, but I didn’t know what was happening.
The doctors found out I had an Ischemic Left Sided stroke. I was in the ICU for about 4 days and when I woke up. I couldn’t speak or move my right arm or leg. In the hospital, I was diagnosed with a type of aphasia called Broca’s aphasia. This is a type of aphasia characterized by loss of the ability to produce language (spoken, manual, or written), although comprehension generally remains intact. I was in Mount Sinai Hospital in New York for 10 days doing intensive physical, occupational and speech therapy. At this time, I couldn’t speak. About 15-20 days after the stroke, I was at Burke rehab center and I was finally able to produce sounds for the first time. I stayed at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital for 1 month. In all, I spent over 2 months in in-patient rehab centers receiving intensive therapy 5-6 days a week. I was extremely motivated to gain as much mobility, as I could, and to get back to my life.
The most frustrating thing was not being able to communicate with my friends and family. Not being able to communicate is a terrible feeling because you don’t have a way to express yourself. It’s like your stuck in your own head with no way out. After in-patient therapy, I was able to express myself in short phrases and had more mobility in my right side. I could walk with a 3-prong cane although still needed some help. After in-patient rehab I stayed with my family and continued outpatient therapy at Staten Island University for 9 more months. Then, I came to Manhattan and had about 9 more months of outpatient therapy. I still participate in therapy as needed. Therapy can be a long journey, but you have to remember to “have hope” and “not to give up on yourself.”
My life now consists of going to Adler Aphasia Center 2 days a week to participate in social groups with other Aphasia survivors. I also volunteer with a kindergarten class. I work on writing, reading, math and do fun activities with the children. I still have the same passion for teaching, as I had before. I also enjoy being in plays and have been in 4 different plays. I didn’t enjoy acting before the stroke, but now I feel that acting is an empowering way to express myself. The plays are always different as “you never know what you’re going to get when all the all the actors have aphasia.” I also enjoy going to baseball games. I am a big Mets fan. I love spending time with both of my nephews. They make me laugh all the time. It’s important to laugh everyday especially after a life changing event. I also love to travel and do sports. I have done scuba diving, white water rafting, tennis cycling and waterskiing. Just because you had a stroke doesn’t mean you can’t do physical activities. I may need adaptive equipment at times, but whatever you need is out there. One piece of advice is to just remember to “have patience” and “not to give up.”