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In the News Archive

Stroke survivor talks the talk

  • June 16, 2009
  • Number of views: 3680
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Article Excerpt
Byline: HARRY JACKSON JR. [email protected] > 314-340-8234

Bill Sanford had spent his life as a speaker, whether as a lawyer arguing a court case, or a negotiator hammering out union contracts.

So his inability to speak after suffering a stroke in June 2007 was more devastating than the paralysis. "I couldn''t say anything. I couldn''t write . . . it was terrible," he said. "Anything people said to me, I could understand, but I couldn''t respond.

"My speech was my strong suit, and I could say nothing."

Sanford was used to a fight, however. He grew up in a St. Louis neighborhood, "... where everybody was going to the slammer."

An alcoholic father punched him, around and his mother was sick and silent. He freed himself at 16, determined not to live the life he''d fled.

He finished high school, then worked in a steel plant to put himself through college and law school.

Those days, he said, molded him and taught him. "Sitting on your butt gets you nowhere," he said. "I made my mind up; I was going to get well."

Sanford''s stroke caused what''s called aphasia, a condition that took away his ability to speak. Some people with aphasia can''t speak or understand language, even though their intelligence is intact.

"That''s like suddenly being dropped in the middle of a foreign country," he said. "No one understands you, and you can''t understand anyone."

About 20 percent to 30 percent of people who survive a stroke wrestle with some degree of aphasia.

Barnes-Jewish Hospital moved him to Barnes-Jewish Extended Care facility in Clayton.

Therapists worked with him. His sister, Anita Hicks of Detroit, visited and drilled him on speech incessantly. But more than that, he worked on himself.

He read the newspaper out loud every day, starting with comics and their short word-bubbles. Then, the articles.

He regained his faculties steadily.

About six months ago, he joined a new support group at the outpatient facility at Barnes-Jewish Extended Care program in Clayton. It was called the Aphasia Conversation Connection.

Sanford and six others met weekly to share their experiences with aphasia, or anything else.

On a recent day, Sanford brought maps of walking trails in Illinois. Sanford walks more than a mile a day; he lifts weights and exercises, too. He has lost 40 pounds since his stroke. The group wanted to know of places to go.

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