ISU Magazine

Volume 41 | Number 2 | Spring/Summer 2011

ISU Clinic

Beth Guryan, Lynn Kammermeyer and Tim Otter

ISU Clinic Makes a Difference at Critical Time

Spring 2011 Issue | By Chris Gabettas

In May 2005 Lynn Kammermeyer, the program director of the Idaho March of Dimes, was leaving her office in Boise to attend a nursing conference in Pocatello when the telephone rang.

It was her doctor, telling her to cancel her plans and see a neurologist immediately. Two days later, Kammermeyer was being prepped for surgery at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center in Boise to repair a brain aneurysm, a weak area in the wall of a blood vessel that can rupture and cause instant death.

While undergoing surgery, Kammermeyer suffered a series of strokes, which interrupted blood flow to the right side of her brain, leaving her in a coma.

"I woke up after two weeks. I couldn't really speak," she said. "I didn't remember anything for a couple of months." Paralyzed on her left side, she couldn't stand, walk, or use her left arm.

"It was devastating for both of us. We weren't sure what level of functionality she would regain," said her husband, Tim Otter. "Both of our lives changed completely on May 13, 2005."

Kammermeyer, who holds a Ph.D. in genetics from Brown University, underwent months of intense physical therapy to help her overcome the paralysis. She walks with a cane for stability, swims and pedals a three-wheeler. Speech therapy has helped her regain many of her communication and language skills. But the journey has been difficult.

The frustration of relearning routine tasks has been overwhelming at times. "Imagine trying to do something with your good arm tied behind your back," she said, recalling her first attempts to make a salad. An ulu knife with its curved blade and rocking motion has made slicing vegetables easier.

Though many people are aware of the physical paralysis associated with stroke, they know little about aphasia-the devastating speech and language impairment-experienced by Kammermeyer and other stroke survivors. However, the National Aphasia Association estimates that more than one million Americans have aphasia and thousands more acquire the disorder each year.

In 2005, Idaho State University's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders started an adult aphasia clinic for stroke survivors and their families in the Treasure Valley. Clients meet twice a week in a group setting with licensed speech-language pathologists and student clinicians enrolled in ISU's speech-language pathology master's program. Client fees are based on a sliding scale.

Beth Guryan, a clinical associate professor who oversees the aphasia group, says many people incorrectly assume aphasia is a condition that affects a person's intelligence when it's actually a communication disorder that impairs the ability to process language.

"People with aphasia typically know what they want to say, but have difficulty producing the words to convey their thoughts," she said. They will rely on gestures, pantomime, writing and facial expressions, she explains.

On a recent January morning-the first aphasia group session of the 2011 spring semester-Kammermeyer sat at a table with student clinicians and other stroke survivors. The hour began with the student clinicians introducing themselves, passing around photographs and sharing stories.

"What brought you to Idaho? Why did you want to study speech-language pathology?" Kammermeyer asked one student clinician new to the state.

These sessions are a reprieve from the loneliness and isolation of aphasia. They encourage social interaction and build communication skills-an important part of treatment and recovery.

"I think it's important our clients know they are not alone in the struggles they face," said Guryan.

Kammermeyer says since joining the aphasia group "it has been marvelous to see people improving. It's inspiring."

Her husband agrees. "We've met a lot of wonderful, talented people. We understand we're all in this together," said Otter.