Belfast Telegraph

Losing the power of speech made me feel trapped... stroke victim tells of her struggles as new awareness campaign begins

By Lisa Smyth

A stroke survivor has described the torment of losing her speech as part of a campaign to raise awareness of people living with communication difficulties.

Margaret Rice suffered a series of strokes three years ago and is still coping daily with the aftermath of the devastating event.

The 61-year-old was forced to give up her job working in Belfast City Hospital as she struggles with even the simplest of conversations and avoids speaking with people where possible.

"It's as frustrating as hell," she said. "I listen to what people are saying and I feel trapped because I can't answer them properly, if at all."

She has lent her support to a campaign run by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) in Northern Ireland.

The My Journey My Voice exhibition, which is currently running at the Shankill Library in west Belfast, showcases nine portraits of people living with communication difficulties.

Margaret has joined the likes of Clodagh Dunlop, who is recovering from locked-in syndrome after she experienced a brain stem stroke, and Colm Davis, the former principal of Tor Bank School in Dundonald, who is living with motor neurone disease.

She was responsible for cardiac admissions at Belfast City Hospital when she fell ill at work on July 3, 2014.

It emerged she had suffered a series of mini strokes and was admitted to the Ulster Hospital that evening.

However, she experienced a massive stroke during the night while asleep and by the time she was examined by a doctor the following morning, her brain had suffered catastrophic damage.

She was diagnosed with dysphasia - the condition causes a range of different problems, including a difficulty understanding what is being said, being unable to speak in sentences or giving the opposite answer to a question, such as saying yes instead of no.

Her husband Bobby (68) said: "It was a huge shock that she had been so badly affected, it takes a while to really sink in.

"One of the doctors treating her was going off on holiday and more or less said they weren't expecting Margaret's speech to improve at all. It was very slow in the beginning, but after about 10 days she started to surprise us all and started to recover."

Margaret began speech therapy and slowly started to regain the ability to talk.

"Speech therapy has been so important," she said.

"At first I didn't know the words I was saying, but slowly the speech therapists helped me to recognise the words. They also gave me the ability to control the words that I wanted to say.

"Since I left hospital after nearly five months, my speech has improved immensely but I feel that there is still a long way to go.

"I still often have trouble finding the right words. I feel I am still improving, but more slowly than before."

Bobby added: "Margaret has improved so much but she still feels uncomfortable speaking to people she doesn't know and it is difficult to see that."

Alison McCullough from the RCSLT said Margaret's experience demonstrates the importance of raising awareness of the difficulties faced by people who experience problems with their speech.

"We believe that people who are affected by communication difficulties are the last bastion of discrimination in terms of ridicule and misunderstanding," she said.

"You see people making fun of Jonathan Ross and there was a case on Twitter where a man with a stammer was in a coffee shop and the staff wrote R-R-Richard on his cup.

"When a job is advertised, it frequently calls for someone with good communication skills, but what are they really?

"If your speech is impaired, does that mean you are not a good communicator?

"We would like to see a lot more done to help people like Margaret."

Belfast Telegraph

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