The Long and Short of Stroke An SLP’s film-festival-worthy movie about a young stroke survivor takes her along new career paths. In the Limelight
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In the Limelight  |   November 01, 2015
The Long and Short of Stroke
Author Notes
  • Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org
    Shelley D. Hutchins is content producer/editor for The ASHA Leader. shutchins@asha.org×
Article Information
Special Populations / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   November 01, 2015
The Long and Short of Stroke
The ASHA Leader, November 2015, Vol. 20, 18-19. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.20112015.18
The ASHA Leader, November 2015, Vol. 20, 18-19. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.20112015.18
Name: Diane Musselman, MS, CCC-SLP
Title: Clinician, Los Robles Hospital, Thousand Oaks, California; founder/executive producer/writer/actor, Dancing Forward Productions
Hometown: Agoura Hills, California
TV shows and movies depict plenty of people who have had strokes. Usually the affected character makes an incredible recovery by the end—cue music and a montage showing treatments, rehab, family support and eventual victory over a stroke’s debilitating effects. Those scenarios rankle Diane Musselman. “Nothing frustrates me more than a show that portrays someone who’s had a stroke and magically in 60 minutes they’re fine,” she says.
As a speech-language pathologist who has treated people with stroke and traumatic brain injuries for 21 years—the past 16 at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, California—her irritation is understandable. Musselman decided to channel her annoyance creatively and combine it with her other expertise—making films. She contacted a former production partner and asked some new showbiz colleagues to help her create a short film depicting the real struggles on the long road of stroke recovery.
Just Another Dance With My Father” tells the story of 27-year-old Katie and how her life dramatically changes as she recovers from a stroke. She questions, for example, if she can ever resume her successful real-estate career without the ability to quickly recall and convey those magical words that helped her sell houses.
Musselman chose to write about a young stroke survivor because, in her experience, most support groups and resources reach out to older patients. She wanted to tell the story of a younger person dealing with issues beyond physical rehabilitation. In the film—as is typical in real life with Musselman’s clients—Katie fights to maintain her romantic relationship, for example, in addition to figuring out if she can continue her career.
“One of the things I learned when doing the research for this film is that about 10 percent of all people who have strokes are younger than 50,” Musselman says. “No one ever talks about the young stroke patients and what they go through, but they experience some different challenges than older patients.”

“No one ever talks about the young stroke patients and what they go through, but they experience some different challenges than older patients.”

Musselman originally intended to hire a screenwriter, but by the time she wrote out the story and the medical details on rehab treatments, the script was done. She also took time to talk with related professionals, such as physical and occupational therapists—as well as other SLPs—about how they’d treat a younger person. “I didn’t want to assume that they experience similar interactions with their clients,” she says. “A lot of people donated their time and energy to help me with the script, work with the actors playing their roles, and review the film to make sure it’s as realistic as possible”
Making this movie reignited a long-held passion for the SLP, who had initially studied theater arts at community college when a class in diction led her to speech-language pathology. “As I studied, I became more interested in working with stroke and TBI,” she says. “I moved away from the arts career path, so it’s funny that I’ve come full circle.”
Neither Musselman’s story nor that of her fictional young stroke survivor ends here. “Just Another Dance” has been selected for showing at six film festivals—an unusually large number for a short film. She says one or two festival selections is considered good for this particular genre, because short films aren’t as marketable as full-length features.
“The challenge with shorts is that nobody really watches them,” Musselman says. “I haven’t ruled out the idea of doing a more mainstream movie on this topic, but I’d love to think that this film can be useful in other ways, like individual showings to specific audiences—such as stroke support groups—to help raise awareness.”

“I’m taking a few years to focus on this other love of mine. I wouldn’t have these stories to tell, however, if it weren’t for being an SLP.”

Dancing Forward Productions—Musselman’s new film company—originated with this 17-minute movie. Although she’s still doing per diem work at Los Robles, Musselman wants to chase her Hollywood dream full time. “I’ll always be a speech-language pathologist, but I’m taking a few years to focus on this other love of mine. I wouldn’t have these stories to tell, however, if it weren’t for being an SLP.”
1 Comment
November 7, 2015
Michele Vandehey
Thank you!
Hello, I really appreciate this article. My dad had a stroke when he was 52 (17 years ago) and my mother provides in home care for him. I am a graduate student in speech-language pathology now and this article hits close to home. I agree that there are so many inaccurate portrayals of what life is like for the person and their family after a stroke. My dad has residual speech, language, and cognitive issues and he is way past the point of spontaneous recovery. As a family it took us a long time to get past the stigma that he would continue improve drastically or eventually be "normal" again. It's a process that requires families to find their own normal. This was a great read, thanks again! MicheleVandehey
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November 2015
Volume 20, Issue 11