“It was a new start for us.”
That is just one of the continuously optimistic statements Chris Cochrane says about his life with his wife, Ashley, after having two strokes and experiencing aphasia as a result. Chris was just 32 when he had his strokes due to unfortunate circumstances. It has only been a year but Chris, now 33, and Ashley, 28, have attended the University of Michigan Aphasia Program (UMAP) for two sessions, and Chris has made remarkable progress.
Chris had his strokes in July of 2013. Chris’s family started looking for help with his aphasia right away, while Chris was still completing his initial recovery in Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado. Chris, his mother, and Ashley all agreed that his first priority after being discharged from Craig hospital would be to find an intensive speech therapy program that focused just on speech. Chris’s Speech Language Pathologist at Craig Hospital, Debra, mentioned UMAP and introduced the Cochranes to a recently discharged patient from Craig, named Jane, who had attended UMAP.
Chris and Ashley were able to attend UMAP right away, in January of 2014. As natives of Florida, they had to endure “the arctic” as Ashley called the intense winter, but Ashley and Chris saw great improvement in his first session at UMAP. While Chris was still at Craig Hospital–from August to November–he had learned to walk again and speak in three to four word phrases. After his first session at UMAP, he could speak in full sentences.
In July of 2014, Chris finished his second session at UMAP. At the end of this second session, Chris gave a presentation to the UMAP family, telling his story. “I could speak three to four words at a time. But now, because of UMAP, I can speak sentences, even paragraphs,” Chris shared during his presentation. “That’s not me. That’s UMAP. Well, some me,” he joked.
Coming a second time had a different effect for Chris. He worked on perfecting speech patterns and phraseology. Specifically, he has worked on fine tuning pronouncing syllables, inflection, and breathing in his speech.
Chris and Ashley had much better weather in July and loved it! When not at UMAP, Chris and Ashley traveled the Midwest, heading to Traverse City for a wedding, the Cherry Festival, and to see the Blue Angels. They even traveled to Chicago for a weekend. In the area, the couple went to a car show in Ann Arbor, the Detroit hydroplane boat race, and the Ann Arbor Art Walk.
Between sessions at UMAP, Chris and Ashley live in Navarre, Florida and Chris attends one-on-one speech therapy at Speech & Communication Center of Navarre with “my Hannah” as Chris calls his speech language pathologist. Chris sees “his Hannah” four times a week for an hour.
A reason the Cochranes love UMAP is the intensive therapy that was specialized just for Chris.
“All the instructors are passionate about helping,” Chris explained. Mimi Block, Clinical Services Manager, specialized the curriculum just for Chris, having him work on a presentation, so he could practice something similar to what he’d do in his job.
Mimi and UMAP’s team of Speech Language Pathologists meet every day about each client to make sure individual needs are being met.
“I love her for that,” Chris said.
In addition to the fun events planned for caregivers, such as the Art Fair or a trip to Zingerman’s, Ashley really enjoyed the aspect of the caregiver curriculum in which Mimi sets aside time to give caregivers information about what aphasia really is, helpful tips, or the best apps and technology to use.
Ashley found this element of the program important because, as Chris said, “Unless you are a stroke survivor, you don’t know.” And the same applies to all causes of aphasia.
The two also loved the weekly group dinners planned as a part of UMAP’s social recreational activities, Ashley said, “This is something really special about your program. Chris loved having time to interact in a casual setting with the other attendees.”
Chris explained, before his stroke, even with a surgeon stepfather and a mother who was a nurse, he had no idea strokes happen to younger people. In his presentation, he asked us all to remember, “Strokes are amazing things and very tough to overcome. They are not just for old people.”
Because Chris is young, people don’t often believe or take his disability seriously. Many times, people have glared or peeled away angrily as Ashley has pulled into a reserved handicap spot. That is, when she could find one. Chris and Ashley explained that too many times Chris has had to wait in the car or walk long distances because they were forced to park blocks away by people who misuse handicap parking permits.
Chris and Ashley have had many good experiences as well. Chris expressed his grattitude for all the helpful people he met in Ann Arbor while attending UMAP. He was especially grateful for an exta helpful employee at the Marriot hotel who drove the Cochranes to a grocery store during a blizzard. And recently, the author of the first book Chris read after his stroke, Love Does, met Ashley and then called Chris on the phone to thank him for “what he’s teaching people about courage and love”.
Although Chris and Ashley have faced new challenges, Chris is ever the optimist, “I see it as a blessing because now we know true friends and family. We are very blessed.”Ashley agreed, “We see life through a totally new pair of glasses.”
In Chris’s presentation, he spoke to other aphasia clients, UMAP staff and caregivers saying, “Life is full of magic—celebrate it.”