Alex gives a talk to students at a medical school and they hang on every word. She provides the keynote for 1,000 people attending a university/school partnership and receives a standing ovation. She sits at a table with four of her peers and says nothing. They don’t give her time to speak. They are in eleventh grade and don’t have the patience to wait. It takes Alex too long to form her thoughts into words. This is the life Alex leads. This is the life of a teenager who had a stroke at age 12. She is now a motivational speaker sharing her story across the United States with the goal of inspiring others to support children with special needs; but she can only talk when people are patient enough to listen.
It has been quite a journey. Alex was a bright, “normal,” articulate little girl. She got pneumonia when she was ten years old. The pneumonia triggered a glitch in her central nervous system and she entered a downward spiral. She had brain surgery at age 12 as a last ditch effort to save her life. During that surgery she had a major stroke. It destroyed the part of her brain that was killing her but also left some significant collateral damage. The left side of her brain was greatly impacted. She lost use of her right hand and it took months and months to begin to walk again. Talking, reading, and writing became a huge struggle. She needed to relearn everything and some things were much more difficult to regain than others. Her younger sister, Jessica, and I wrote a book about it as a platform for Alex’s talks. The book is called A Stroke of Luck.
It is interesting that Alex can stand up and speak to hundreds of people. She loses words occasionally but since I speak with her I help her to find them. It is interesting that she loses words much more frequently when with her peers. She is more nervous speaking to four people than to 400.
She is speaking better and better but she still struggles when interacting with peers. This year, she befriended exchange students in her school. They spoke more slowly as they were struggling with language themselves. They gave her opportunities to join in on the conversation. As their language improved, they began to spend less time with her. She could no longer get into the conversation. Alex has so much to say, she could be such a good friend; we are hopeful that soon her peers will choose to listen.
Juli K. Dixon