Friendship Forged in Adversity

It’s an unlikely basis for a friendship, but Stephan and Peter have been inseparable since they met five years ago, while they were both undergoing rehabilitation for stroke.

Peter, an architect, and Stephan, a gallery owner, found themselves in the same room and soon discovered that they had much in common; both were Fitzroy locals with a love of art. But their greatest common ground was the frustration and isolation they suffered, from being unable to communicate effectively.

Stephan and Peter have developed a strong bond and are supporting each other through what is a very long road to recovery.

Stroke patient Stephan spent months in St Vincent’s rehab ward and now volunteers his time to train students in communicating with patients with aphasia.
Stroke patient Stephan spent months in St Vincent’s rehab ward and now volunteers his time to train students in communicating with patients with aphasia.

Unable to return to work and having lost the use of the dominant right side of his body, Peter has devoted himself to becoming an artist, developing his drawing skills with his left hand to create intricate works of art. Stephan is trying to get back to living a normal life, raising his two young children.

Stroke is one of Australia’s biggest killers and a leading cause of disability. One in 6 people will have a stroke in their lifetime and this year there will be more than 50,000 new and recurrent strokes – that is 1,000 strokes every week or one stroke every 10 minutes.

Up to 40% of stroke survivors will acquire aphasia, an acquired communications disorder which impairs a person’s ability to communicate.

The St Vincent’s Speech Pathology team are specialists in the assessment and treatment of communication and swallowing disorders and work with people across the continuum of care – from the acute setting through to the community, providing the best care to our patients.

The team also plays a key role in training tomorrow’s speech pathologists. Each year they run a training day for Speech Pathology students, inviting former patients who experience aphasia to visit and help to train students in effectively communicating with them.

Stephan and Peter, along with half a dozen other stroke survivors, jumped at the chance to pass on their first-hand knowledge of aphasia.

‘These former patients have suffered a loss of identity due to their stroke and have found a new role and outlet by training students who will go on to help people who will suffer communication difficulties in the future,’ Speech Pathology Manager Kathryn McKinley said.

The department also runs the Supported Conversation Volunteer program to provide opportunities for patients with acquired communication difficulties following a stroke or laryngectomy to have social conversations with a trained volunteer. Patients and volunteers have embraced the program which helps overcome the isolation that can come from communication difficulties.

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