Breaking Through

(I’ve been wanting to share this story with you. It’s a bit long but I feel it is worth telling.)

In 2004, my Dad suffered a massive stroke. Thankfully, he survived but it left him with the right side of his body paralyzed, thereby impairing his mobility to a huge extent.

That in itself is difficult enough, but I believe the worst part of it for my Dad was that the stroke also severely constrained his ability to communicate. You see, Dad loved words he read a lot, wrote essays and articles for local newspapers, and had the easiest time speaking in public (he was a politician and a teacher and had a local radio talk show). He also loved to sing.

The stroke put a stop to all that. While Dad’s brain was unaffected (he can read and can recognize classmates from high school), it had become ‘disconnected’ from his ability to speak.  As a result, his vocabulary basically became limited to yes, no, and OK. He often got them mixed up, too and would say ‘no’ when he meant ‘yes’.  It caused a lot of confusion on our part and much frustration for Dad. He would yell and curse at us because we could not grasp the message he was trying desperately to get across.

We encouraged him to write. But unable to move his right hand and finding it too difficult to form words, he no longer bothered to try.

Things slowly got better over the years.  Dad is now able to correct himself right away if he says ‘no’ when he means otherwise. When he agrees with us or we correctly guess what he needs, he says ‘OK’ over and over. There has been a lot of improvement in his mobility, too, so he no longer depends on us to do most things for him and there are fewer occasions for miscommunication.

To practice his enunciation, we prompt him to repeat words. He imitates his grandchildren when they say things like ‘hippopotamus’ or ‘Swiper, no swiping!’. He sometimes sings along with them, too, although he is always a couple of beats behind because he listens to their lyrics first. 🙂

Still, it has generally been merely a pattern of prompts, repetitions, routine and lucky guesses for us and Dad.

Then last January, on the eve of Dad’s 76th birthday, my sister and brother-in-law saw a piece of paper on Dad’s nightstand. Scribbled on it was this:

It was written by my Dad.

My Dad! For the first time in 8 years, Dad wrote something! And he did it without prompting or anything to copy.

Imagine the calls, text messages, tweets and ecstatic Facebook updates that ensued. Dad may have written down the simplest computation, but for us it had more significance than e=mc².

I called him the next day and he sounded so proud of himself. Since then, my Ma reports, Dad has been writing a little everyday, mostly names and the days of the week. We’re hoping he’ll soon ‘graduate’ to writing down phrases and complete sentences. We don’t really know at this point if he ever will but this has given us renewed hope. It’s been eight years after all. I’m sure Dad already has so much to tell.


(Note: I use the word ‘we’ and ‘us’ in reference to our whole family, but it is really my mother, my eldest sister and my brother-in-law who have been doing most of the ‘heavy lifting’ in caring for my Dad. If these were an awards show, I’d be thanking them, too, until the music drowns me out. 🙂)

33 thoughts on “Breaking Through

  1. That’s wonderful news. It’s heartbreaking to see the damage a stroke can do, especially the frustration that the person has to deal with on top of it all. I hope he continues to have these break throughs!

  2. There may not seem like much hope, but there always has to be, its what makes us human. Without hope we loose ourselves. Its such a great story to hear that although its been slow going… There has been progress. Praying for your family and you and thanks for sharing.

    • Thank you very much. We realize we’re clinging to hopes that may remain only that, so a little scribbling by him on his own has become such a huge deal for us. 🙂

  3. Tita, tiny steps really matter. It may not seem like much but I agree with you, it is a huge deal. I am so happy to hear that he is making such wonderful progress. May his mind continue to shine and may hope be in all your hearts.

  4. This is very touching and very encouraging, too. Two years ago, my cousin Christian had a terrible accident on his motorbike and as a consequence, he suffered extremely severe brain trauma. His “hard disk”, so to speak, was wiped clean, so he didn’t remember swallowing, breathing, etc. To this day communicating with him is very hard and frustrating but he perseveres and my family back in Argentina, keep trying as well. That your father has regained the ability to write, gives me the hope that with the passing of time, Cristian might regain some of his own ability to communicate.
    I hope your dad continues to improve little by little.

    • Thanks, Aledys!
      I can empathize with Christian’s family. His parents must have been devastated. The first stages of recovery are really tough and I’m sure the accident’s effect on his memory makes it doubly difficult for everyone. (My Dad lost his memory for several weeks, too but it gradually came back. While he was still in the hospital, we had to introduce ourselves to him.) But it is very important to keep up the hope in cases like these. I get the impression that Christian is a young man? Let’s hope his youth becomes a positive factor in his eventual recovery.

      • Christian is 35. He is on and off during the day and he is not “connected” all the time. Lately his “on” periods have lengthened somehow, but that also comes with more frequent seizures. He communicates, though he doesn’t make sense many times… The little progress that he’s made, we have to thank indeed, to his being young and strong.
        After his accident, his father was diagnosed with Alzheimer and rapidly deteriorated. He died last year. And 4 months after Christian’s accident, his sister, aged 30 and 3 little kids, died suddenly of a brain tumor.
        It’s been the most horrible 2 years for my family, I can tell you. But we’re still hoping Christian will at least regain some of his abilities.

  5. Wow, what a breakthrough indeed! I’ll be one with you and your family in praying for your dad’s complete healing. I’m looking forward to reading more updates about his breakthroughs! God is good!

    • Thank you, Yen. We are hoping for more but as of now, the fact that he survived it and now remains strong and enjoys his family is already a huge blessing for us. 🙂

    • That in itself is a wonder to us, too. My Dad’s friends who see him usually comment that they are pleasantly surprised at how Dad looks better and better every time they see him. 🙂

  6. What a wonderful progress. I totally can relate. My grandfather, who I loved dearly, had a stroke at age of 60. Unfortunately it didn’t go well for him at all and he passed away of heart attack at the age of 62. It really makes me happy when people who suffered from stroke have something to be happy about and make progress. My best wishes for your Dad and your family

    • Thanks, KatZ. I’m sorry to hear that your grandfather did not make it long past the time of his stroke. I guess, though, that much consolation can be had from the fact that you guys were able to show your care for him before he passed away.

  7. Tita how wonderful that your Dad has stayed strong! That he hasn’t given up when it would be so easy to do so. I would have been jumping up and down happy over his math too! I hope he continues in his progress, I am betting he does and the hope you speak of is so important. My prayers are with your Dad, you and your family.

    • Thank you very much.
      I called him on his birthday and told him, ‘Dad, you’re 76. That’s still too young, ok?’ He laughed and said OK. 🙂
      It really felt good to know that he feels good about his life despite everything.

  8. This is great news, Tita Buds! I’m happy for you and your family. You give us a great example of how a family overcomes challenges through perseverance and a strong support structure within.

    • That’s the most important thing, family support. It also helps that there are two very makulit kids in the house. They usually accompany him in his walks around our village and would even say, ‘Hurry up, Lolo!’. They’re the best physical therapists around. 😀

  9. Life keeps showing you hope every now and then… its only when we open our eyes, the light strikes…. Though I don;t know you but I really feel happy for you and your family…

  10. one of the things i miss most is dad’s handwriting. it wasn’t impeccable but it was what i would call “full of character.” his attempts at writing are now almost that of a grader’s. still, the fact that he can write is already an achievement :p

    • And don’t forget that he is now having to write with his left after being right-hand-dominant for so many years. I’m pretty sure his current penmanship is just as good as – if not better than – how my chickenscratch would appear if I tried to write with my left, too.

  11. Thank you for sharing–makes me cry. Our family pulled together when my mother was dying of cancer, and you just celebrate every big and little victory. May you have many more! My best wishes for you and yours.

  12. I admire how your whole family has stayed strong and very supportive to your Dad. Your encouragement and the love who’ve shown him has kept him strong. My prayers are with you and your dad.

  13. It’s lovely to know that this story turned towards a happy path! Seeing someone you love become a shadow of himself is too painful. Here’s to continued fast progress for your dad, he sounds like someone who doesn’t give up 🙂

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