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Published: 6/1/2007

Stroke survivor's disability leads to helping others

BY JULIE M. McKINNON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jackie Zychowicz, center, celebrates the opening of the new aphasia facility in Bedford Township with her husband, Frank, left, and speech therapist Melodie Dregansky. Jackie Zychowicz, center, celebrates the opening of the new aphasia facility in Bedford Township with her husband, Frank, left, and speech therapist Melodie Dregansky.
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Jackie Zychowicz expected to return to work six months after having a stroke.

But the veteran licensed practical nurse's right side, which initially seemed paralyzed, was weak. And her ability to talk or otherwise communicate remained impaired despite intensive speech therapy.

So Ms. Zychowicz decided to focus her energy on educating people about the signs of stroke and how to deal with problems resulting from a brain attack, especially aphasia. That disorder affects a person's ability to communicate, typically after a traumatic brain injury or a stroke like the 59-year-old Toledo woman had nearly two years ago.

Today, Ms. Zychowicz and speech therapist Melodie Dregansky are opening the DaZy Centre for Acquired Aphasia in Bedford Township, a place where those with aphasia, their family members, and others can share therapy, information, and experiences. The center, located at least for the summer at 6530 Secor Rd. at Harmony In Health's office, will be open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays.

Ms. Zychowicz, who writes on paper or uses her cell phone's personal digital assistant to help communicate, said yesterday the center where those with aphasia can socialize on their own terms has been in the works for about a year. Her favorite phrase - "talk, talk, talk" - conveys her drive to continue making strides.

Having trouble communicat-ing is disconcerting for stroke victims, who at times also cannot immediately comprehend what someone is telling them, said Ms. Zychowicz's husband, Frank Zychowicz.

"You just feel so frustrated because you know what you want to say but you just can't say it," he said as his wife agreed.

Like Ms. Zychowicz, however, stroke victims with aphasia can continue to improve long after their brain attacks - and sometimes after their insurance plans no longer pay for speech therapy, Ms. Dregansky said. Activities at the center, such as games or art projects, are meant to augment individual therapy elsewhere, she said.

"We know that meeting in a group, in a conversational group, in a natural setting, really stimulates language," Ms. Dregansky said.

In September, Ms. Zychowicz and Ms. Dregansky started an aphasia support group, which continues to meet from 5 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays at All Saints Lutheran Church, 5445 Heatherdowns Blvd., Toledo. The Zychowiczs this summer plan to visit senior centers and other groups to help educate people about strokes.

Family members also can benefit from interactions at both the support group and center, Mr. Zychowicz said. Since Ms. Zychowicz had a stroke, for example, he has learned how to ask his wife of 37 years questions that require "yes" or "no" answers, as well as other techniques to help her communicate, he said.

"There are a lot of little things," said Mr. Zychowicz, assistant principal at Toledo's Oakdale Elementary. "You make adjustments."

People with aphasia need support, Ms. Dregansky said.

"They have a lot to say, it's just they have to be accommodated," she said. "You have to give them time, you have to play charades, you have to ask them 'Twenty Questions.' "

Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:

jmckinnon@theblade.com

or 419-724-6087.



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