When Tyler Thomas set out to complete a full Ironman competition in fall 2021, he knew dedicating the race to close family friend Tim Wadhams felt right. Tyler decided to tackle the feat of endurance in honor of Tim — a man he and his brothers call “Uncle Tim” — after seeing him navigate the challenges of stroke and aphasia recovery.
Tyler said at first he was going to do the race as a way to show solidarity with overcoming challenges and pushing himself. But it soon transformed into something bigger. He turned to their shared networks and the University of Michigan Aphasia Program to ask for help in bringing awareness to what Tim and 2 million others in the United States are faced with.
Aphasia is a communication disorder that affects a person’s ability to speak, read, write, and/or comprehend language; sometimes it affects one aspect and sometimes it affects all aspects of language communication. But the term communication disorder doesn’t quite convey how deeply aphasia impacts a person. Imagine not being able to tell your child you love them, to make a joke with an old friend, or to escape into a book — aphasia can take away a person’s sense of self and can be isolating for the person with aphasia as well as their family and friends.
People with aphasia often show improvement with intensive, individualized speech-language therapy, like that provided through the U-M Aphasia Program. However, this type of therapy is generally not supported by health insurance and can be financially out-of-reach for many who would benefit from it.
“The ability to communicate and to tell people how you feel and what you’re doing—
I think we take it for granted,” Tyler said.
Aphasia has an Awareness Problem
Tyler, like most people, was unfamiliar with the term aphasia until he learned about Tim’s condition. Aphasia has an awareness problem: despite it affecting millions of people and an estimated 180K new cases each year, more than 86% of those who were asked had never heard the term aphasia (2020 NAA survey).
It was then his focus shifted from dedicating the race to using it as a platform to raise awareness and create access to aphasia therapy resources. Tyler set out initially to raise $10,000. Before the starting pistol even fired into the air on race day, he had exceeded that goal.
As the effort took off, Tyler and Tim worked with the U-M Aphasia Program (UMAP) and the U-M Office of Development to establish a new fund for others who want to help support aphasia awareness and provide access to intensive, comprehensive aphasia therapy. The Tim Wadhams & Tyler Thomas Aphasia Awareness Fund (338657) was established with this purpose.
With Tim’s help, as well as support from the community, the fund has now reached more than 10 times the initial goal. Individuals and foundations have both contributed to help the fund hit a new high mark of more than $115,000 — and counting.
Support to the Fund Helps People with Aphasia Get Direct Access to Therapy
Donations to the Tim and Tyler Aphasia Awareness Fund are directed to the U-M Aphasia Program at the University Center for Language and Literacy (UCLL), part of the Mary A. Rackham Institute, a non-profit organization at U-M. The funding supports clients who meet specific financial assistance criteria to attend the intensive, comprehensive aphasia program and get access to the type of aphasia therapy that has been shown to be most effective. For Michigan residents, support through the financial assistance program can reduce the cost to attend up to 60%. Out-of-state clients can receive up to 40% reduction in therapy costs, when they meet the criteria.
“I attribute maybe 90% of his progress to being able to join the U-M Aphasia Program and the sessions he took — that combined with his will to get better has made a tremendous difference,” said Laurie Wadhams, Tim’s spouse.
Tim said the U-M Aphasia Program has helped him progress and that he would encourage others with aphasia to be as engaged as possible right away in their recovery. He recognized that not everyone has access to aphasia resources, which make his and Tyler’s efforts that much more essential.
“It’s a chance to support a program that makes a difference,” said Tim.
How You Can Contribute
Support the Tim Wadhams & Tyler Thomas Aphasia Awareness Fund (338657) through the U-M Leaders and Best website or by contacting the U-M Aphasia Program. UMAP is a 501(c)3 nonprofit, which means your donations are tax deductible. For additional donation details (mailing address, phone number, etc.), see: Donate to UMAP.
- Full article: Tyler Thomas: Racing Toward Aphasia Awareness
- About the U-M Aphasia Program: UMAP, the oldest aphasia program in the nation, pioneered the intensive, individualized approach to aphasia speech-language therapy and remains one of about 12 intensive, comprehensive aphasia programs (ICAPs) in the world. We offer in-person and teletherapy to help people with aphasia focus on speech-language and communication recovery as well as help build their confidence and independence. Care partner support and education is also a cornerstone of the program, which is unique among aphasia programs.
- About Aphasia and Why this Matters:
- Nationally there are more than 2 million people with aphasia, yet getting access to high-quality, intensive care and resources to help in aphasia recovery can be difficult.
- More than 86% of those who were asked had never heard the term aphasia, according to the 2020 National Aphasia Association (NAA) awareness survey. However, more than 70% of respondents indicated there was a connection between language and speech issues following a stroke or head injury. In other words, people are generally aware that something happens to a person’s ability to communicate, but they don’t know it’s called aphasia.
- An estimated 30-40% of people who have a stroke acquire aphasia.
- More people in the U.S. have aphasia than other common conditions, including cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, and muscular dystrophy — combined.
- Most insurances do not support speech-language therapy for aphasia beyond 1-2 hours a week for a short time. However, research shows that with intensive, individualized speech-language therapy, many people with aphasia make measurable gains, regardless of how long it has been since they acquired the communication disorder.