Bruce Dean: LA Firefighter Now Fights Aphasia with Help of UMAP

Success Story

Lois and Bruce Dean have travelled all the way from Alta Loma, California to the University of Michigan Aphasia Program (UMAP) three times since July 2013, having just finished a six-week session on August 15, 2014.

Lois and Bruce continue to travel across the country for Bruce’s speech therapy because of the difference UMAP’s intensive, highly personal approach has made in Bruce’s progress.

Prior to coming to UMAP, Bruce received therapy at a prestigious rehabilitation facility in California. It was the same facility where Cory Remsburg, a war veteran honored by President Obama, received therapy. At the rehab facility in California, the speech therapy was not as intensive as that offered by UMAP, and Bruce was lucky to get an hour of speech therapy a day.

The Deans traveled to Michigan because they like the more intensive and consistent approach that UMAP uses.

A Stroke and a Radical Surgery

Bruce Dean, a battalion chief firefighter for Los Angeles County, had a stroke while installing a batting cage at his son’s high school with another father.

Bruce had stopped working and propped himself up on a fence, saying “take me to the desert” repeatedly. When the other father he was working with asked if he was okay, Bruce said he had called his wife and she was coming to get him. But he hadn’t.

A friend of Bruce’s and baseball coach at the school went to the batting cage to check on the volunteer fathers and knew something was wrong with Bruce the moment he saw him. He checked Bruce’s phone to see when he called Lois and soon realized the call was never made. He then called 911.

Bruce’s son found his father as the paramedics were arriving and he told them Bruce was an L.A. County battalion chief. Several chiefs that Bruce had worked with were there in minutes, along with family members and close friends. The waiting room was filled to capacity. “Although the tremendous support was appreciated, at times, it was overwhelming,” Lois explained.

Bruce had a very severe brain bleed. And after hearing what a “rockstar” Bruce’s neurosurgeon was around the ER, Lois was shocked to find that he was hesitant to operate on Bruce. “I don’t normally operate with that much blood,” he explained matter-of-factly, without providing other options. When pressed, the surgeon finally offered an approach where he would take out a portion of Bruce’s skull to allow room for the swelling brain and prevent further damage. The removed piece of Bruce’s skull would be sewn into Bruce’s abdomen to keep it alive and viable. The piece of skull could then be replaced when the swelling in Bruce’s brain stopped. It was a radical approach, but Lois discussed the frightening idea with Bruce’s fellow fire chiefs and decided to go forward. “If anyone is going to beat this, it’s Bruce Dean.” She later added, “That’s who Bruce was, a go-getter.”

Before his stroke, Bruce was in top shape, working as a volunteer in several different areas of the fire department, including a position in equipment development for 15 years, in addition to his job as a battalion chief. His job alone in equipment development was taken on by three men after Bruce’s stroke. The doctors speculate he had high blood pressure due to his stressful job.

The doctors were not optimistic for Bruce after surgery, showing Lois nursing homes in the area. “Bruce wasn’t showing responses to other people, but I knew differently,” Lois shared. She held off on the nursing homes, waiting for a bed to open up at the prestigious rehab facility and it did–on Bruce’s birthday.

Coming to UMAP

Bruce and Lois came to UMAP for the first time in July 2013. And although he was up most nights with bladder issues and on seizure medication that often made him drowsy, Lois insisted she saw improvement. Bruce learned to gesture, prompt himself, and to communicate in ways other than words. He gained a lot from the group therapy by seeing that he wasn’t alone.

Between trips to UMAP, Bruce returned to the rehabilitation facility in California. Prior to one of his trips back to California, Jennifer Corey, a UMAP speech language pathologist who worked closely with Bruce, learned the facility planned to take his amount of speech therapy down to just three hours a week. She knew Bruce needed more intense therapy in order to keep progressing. She called the therapists in California and explained. Thanks to Jennifer, Bruce was soon assured that nine hours would be dedicated to speech on his return to California.

The second session for the Deans was in November 2013, and Bruce made strides. He was gaining confidence. On his own, he decided he did not need his cane and worked to walk without it. He also moved to intense work on spelling and phrases.

“The last week of that session was more like counseling,” said Lois, explaining the work that Bruce did with Judy Nantau, another of UMAP’s dedicated team of speech language pathologists. “Judy– really helped him turn a corner. He came home and was motivated, did work around the house which he had not done since the stroke.”

“Everytime we leave this place he gets a little confidence back,” explained Lois.

This year, the Deans spent the first week of July visiting Lois’ brothers in North Carolina; their first family vacation since the stroke. Bruce did everything with them, “He was living life,” Lois said.

While in North Carolina, Bruce didn’t have a shower chair. So when they returned to UMAP after the visit, for their third session, Bruce insisted–no chair. Now, he doesn’t need it.

“This place makes you motivated,” Lois remarked. “Each time I come, I get a little piece of my husband back.”

Bruce began working on more and harder tasks. Writing, reading aloud, verbs, action words, components of sentences. Now Bruce can write and read words quickly from flashcards.

Bruce’s leadership qualities began to return. Bruce became close friends with Chris Cochrane, another UMAP client, and provided the motivation for Chris to push himself to walk without his cane, which Chris can now do.

“Something about this place is warm and inviting. You’re part of a family. Being with others just like you is empowering.” Lois shared about favoring UMAP’s focus on group work.

Leaving UMAP

After an extended six-week session, Bruce and Lois have returned to California in good spirits. The UMAP clinicians helped Bruce make realistic goals for when he is home and Bruce knows they will provide great moral support. Bruce and Lois look forward to the emails from SLP Jennifer Corey, and receiving the UMAP holiday card. Bruce and Lois now see UMAP as an extension of their family.

“We leave here with a sense of hope,” said Lois smiling.