From Coma to Communication This SLP’s recovery from a traumatic brain injury increased her pride in how audiologists and speech-language pathologists improve lives. First Person/Last Page
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First Person/Last Page  |   May 01, 2015
From Coma to Communication
Author Notes
  • Judith Ludwig-Keller, MS, CCC-SLP, is retired from clinical and special education positions in the Albuquerque Public Schools. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1, Language Learning and Education; and 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders. judykeller610@gmail.com
    Judith Ludwig-Keller, MS, CCC-SLP, is retired from clinical and special education positions in the Albuquerque Public Schools. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 1, Language Learning and Education; and 2, Neurophysiology and Neurogenic Speech and Language Disorders. judykeller610@gmail.com×
Article Information
Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / First Person/Last Page
First Person/Last Page   |   May 01, 2015
From Coma to Communication
The ASHA Leader, May 2015, Vol. 20, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.20052015.72
The ASHA Leader, May 2015, Vol. 20, 72. doi:10.1044/leader.FPLP.20052015.72
On a warm and sunny April 28, 2013, I was hiking with a friend in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque. While we were resting in the shade on a steep slope, a boulder plummeted down and hit the right side of my head.
I was airlifted to a trauma center with a Glasgow Coma Scale of 3 (the bottom of the severe level), aspiration pneumonia and septic shock. The coma lasted for a week with a 50-50 chance of survival. Eventually I was flown to Craig Hospital in Denver for intensive rehabilitation.
I have no memories from the early stages of my injury, but I do recall some of my first thoughts: being scared, confused and especially terrified that I wouldn’t get better. The injury had cost me two basic essentials in life—communication and hearing. My roles and passions as a mother, partner, friend and professional were gone. My sense of self had evaporated. There I was, a dedicated, enthusiastic speech-language pathologist and educational leader, pointing to pictures, naming objects and stacking blocks. I couldn’t hear very well and others had difficulty understanding most of my verbal expression.
I left Craig Hospital when I hit the 60-day insurance limit for inpatient therapy. Fortunately, my skills had improved from severe to mild-moderate impairment. An audiologist noticed my hearing difficulties, and her testing showed significant sensorineural hearing loss. With her suggested hearing aids, I began to feel more connected to those around me, although I still felt separated from the world and sometimes thought I no longer belonged in it.
At the University of Colorado-Boulder’s speech and hearing clinic, I received five hours of expert, effective, research-based speech-language treatment each week in individual and group sessions from September 2013 to April 2014. I also returned to Craig in October 2013 as an outpatient two days per week. This intensive level of intervention, expertise and support helped me progress amazingly.
My self-worth and connection to the world increased dramatically. My SLPs cared about me, challenged me constantly and never gave up on me. I even had the honor of speaking at the 2014 CU Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences graduation.
Before returning home, I received a bone-anchored implant. My hearing has improved up to 95 percent and I receive bi-monthly support from a specialized audiologist.
Everyone wants to feel that they matter, especially patients with severe injuries. My audiologists and SLPs not only helped improve my functions and skills beyond expectations, they treated me as a person—not just a patient—and, over time, I felt I mattered in this world again. For a long time I didn’t even feel part of humanity, connected to life or capable of interacting with others. I was embarrassed by how I looked and sounded. They gave me hope, acknowledged every small increment of success and even challenged me to read and respond to some Leader articles.
The difference they made for me is powerful. I can’t recall every therapist’s name, but I can see their faces and feel their support in my heart.
Possibilities are in my life! I embrace being a part of the world, connected to family, friends and my profession. I’m back to hiking, reading, writing, socializing and composing convention proposals, and I’m ready to resume my career.
This is the impact of our professions: making a difference for others’ lives. I’m so proud of our professions and so thankful I’m back to life because of them. There is a vast difference between surviving and living. I progressed from surviving to once again enjoying life!
1 Comment
May 5, 2015
Nicole Dobson
I am a TBI survivor too
Judith's experience, while tragic, is tremendously inspiring. I am a TBI survivor from New Mexico too. However, I was in a car accident in Virginia. Like her, I too made the journey back from a 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale, though I was 13-years old. My experience pushing through therapies, relearning how to walk and talk fueled my passion to become a speech pathologist. I will attend Teacher's College, Columbia University in the fall of 2015. Please see the articles below for more information on my story: http://www.umw.edu/greatminds/2013/11/21/a-second-chance/ http://www.umw.edu/greatminds/2015/04/02/celebrating-acceptance/
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May 2015
Volume 20, Issue 5