Updated: May 25
Avi G completed his Bachelor of Science in Biology at Towson University in Maryland. He was successful in his schoolwork and was passionate in progressing toward his dream to become a doctor. He soon got certified and became an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).
Throughout his employment as an EMT he learned all about emergency medicine as well as developed his love for patient care in this exciting field. He also worked in Israel with Magen David Adom (Israel's EMT service) for 3 years as his mother is from Jerusalem. Avi was thriving in all his dreams and was living the life he always wanted.
In June 2007 everything changed. At 33 years old, Avi was admitted for surgery at Columbia Hospital in NYC for an mitral valve prolapse (MVP) repair that was found near the aortic valve in his heart. Avi was assured that this was a serious, yet routine surgery, and he would be recovering in a relatively short amount of time. However, during surgery, Avi experienced a stroke on the left side of his brain. This left him with severe aphasia (difficulties understanding and expressing language) and right-sided paralysis. The only thing he could say was “Michael” he didn’t even know why he was saying this. This stroke completely turned his world upside down.
Avi was placed in in-patient care at Columbia hospital for 8 weeks then sent to Long Island Jewish Health System in patient rehabilitation hospital for 8 more weeks of intensive therapy. During his stay he had multiple hours a day of Speech-language therapy, Physical therapy and Occupational therapy. He also utilized non traditional therapies as he wanted to try everything under the sun to improve including tai chi, acupuncture, water therapy, yoga, constraint therapy, computer games and newly developed computer based speech software. He was also able to trial a Neuromove™ device on the paralyzed right side.
Avi found his expressive aphasia the most frustrating part of the experience. Aphasia is considered a chronic condition that can affect the patient’s ability to understand language and express themselves. Imagine going through this life changing event, and not being able to let others know your basic wants, needs, or thoughts. You're stuck in your own head as aphasia does not affect intellect, just the ability to communicate and understand language.
Avi was such an outgoing person prior to the stroke and would often communicate with his friends and family, which made this process much more difficult. Avi has made so much progress in regards to his recovery. He went from minimal language abilities to now being able to understand what others are saying and being able to express himself in not one but 2 languages. Avi was determined to regain as much as possible in both English and Hebrew. He dedicated up to 15 hours per day working to regain proficiency in both. He is now able to understand Hebrew and English very well, although still has difficulties with reading and writing. He states that he still has difficulties “finding the right words” when talking to people but is now able to communicate effectively. He states that “in his head he knows what he wants to say isn’t coming out right.”
He admits that he still gets frustrated when he communicates however he feels that “every day he gets better and better, its just a slow process.” Avi has not let his expressive language deficits stop him from accomplishing anything that he sets his mind too. Avi’s list of accomplishments since the stroke are truly inspiring. Avi has been an active contributor to “Aphasia Awareness Training for Emergency Responders Project,” for the National Aphasia Association. Avi has greatly impacted his field as an EMT and has worked with other EMTs and firefighters throughout the country and Israel creating materials and trainings to assist in working with people with communication difficulties. Avi has also served as an Aphasia consultant for 2 plays in New York; for the production of “Wings” and “Night Sky,” in New York City. Avi continues to impact on the Aphasia community and volunteers his time at the Adler Aphasia Center.
Working closely with a speech-language pathologist he works with various medical professionals as well as trains doctoral residents in various fields to educate them on working with patients with aphasia. Avi is still the same social, caring, and passionate person that he was prior to the stroke. Avi says that he wanted to help people before, but the stroke has given him new motivation and passion to help others. Avi had to re-take his certification to become a EMT and relearn essential life saving skills as he was unable to use his right arm anymore.
Avi had a passion for outdoor sports since childhood and decided to start a program called NYC outdoor disabilities, that is dedicated to getting people with various disabilities together to go on out door adventures such as walking and exploring as well as thrilling sports such as rock climbing, scuba diving and white water rafting. He has gotten people together with various disabilities including sensory impairments, amputations, spinal cord injuries and other stroke survivors. He partners with organizations that provided adaptive equipment for the participants when needed. Avi tells others that “the sky is the limit.”
Avi still goes to speech/language therapy 5x per week. He speaks to patients, speech/language therapist and medical professionals about aphasia but his true love is disability sports. Avi states that his favorite sports are skydiving and snowboard. Avi says he enjoys the rush of free falling from a plane. He wants patients to know that whatever you want is “out there, you just have to look for it.” He also continues to volunteer at various hospitals around New York inspiring other stroke survivors. He tells current patients “not to give up” and strives to inspire them with his own story. Avi says one piece of advice that he gives patients is to, “always laugh, work hard and then laugh more.” Avi says that “to get through the tough times just remember that its all good and things will get better.”