Dr. Michael and Robin French give back to BGSU’s Speech and Hearing Clinic

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Dr. Michael and Robin French were familiar with Bowling Green State University’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, given that Dr. French had worked at BGSU and they live in Bowling Green, but they didn’t know how valuable the clinic’s services would be until Robin had a stroke in 2004.

Robin, who also has multiple sclerosis, suffered a hemorrhagic (bleeding) stroke. As a result of the stroke, Robin’s speech was greatly affected. She could think of what she wanted to say, but could not say it. Since then, she and Michael cope with the outcomes of the stroke, which includes aphasia, a communication disorder that results from damage or injury to language parts of the brain, every day.
 
The Frenches recently came to campus to share their journey in utilizing BGSU’s Speech and Hearing Clinic with Communication Sciences and Disorders (CDIS) students. They met with CDIS assistant professor Dr. Brent Archer’s class to tell their story and used the occasion to announce a generous gift to the CDIS program and clinic.
 
Michael French, who recently retired from Saint Mary’s College as a faculty member, served as an associate professor in education/curriculum and instruction, and director of the Martha Gesling Weber Reading Center at BGSU from 1989 to 2006. Robin was the director of the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) program at St. Aloysius Catholic Church.
 
Michael French started his presentation by telling the class, “We want you to know the importance of your work. If you know the movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ where George Bailey, the main character, doesn’t realize his worth to his family, friends and the community until he’s shown what happens if he never existed, you’ll know what I mean.
 
“When you do clinical work here with an autistic child or an adult that suffers from a stroke, your work is important. We feel so strongly about this that we have gifted 5 percent of our estate to the French Family Development Fund in the CDIS Department and 5 percent of our estate to the Speech and Hearing Clinic.”
 
After being released from the hospital in 2004, Robin went into therapy for about 11 weeks. She received outpatient physical and speech therapy through the summer of 2005 and came to BGSU’s clinic for speech therapy in fall 2005. At BGSU, they received personalized care and could see Robin making improvements.
 
The clinic staff developed key strategies to help Robin, including word substitution or “coining.” Instead of salad dressing, Robin would say “salad sauce.” Taco shells would come out as “taco skins.” Michael said he remarked that her speech had become “strokified.” He said our personal humor may sound offensive to some people, but “What word do you use?” This was their reality.
 
They also used techniques such as finger charades, reading verbatim for things like menu items, word games such as Wheel of Fortune and forced contextual language.  
 
At the beginning of therapy, there was frustration on both the couple’s parts. It was a year before Robin began to make progress. She felt her mind was perfectly clear, but she couldn’t talk. Her speech would just shut off.
 
Michael French noted that therapy with a family member is difficult and caregiving is 24/7. Your life changes, including the dynamics of your family, marriage, support systems, choices, everything, he said.
 
“The care provided in our Speech and Hearing Clinic is highly individualized and therefore is of very high quality,” said Jim Ciesla, dean of the College of Health and Human Services, “So the Frenches gift, supporting the academic programming we provide in the clinic, will help assure that our patients will continue to receive high quality personalized care.”
 
When Robin started therapy at BGSU, the therapists were interested in helping her and she got so much better, the couple said. She relearned words and the names of things. She learned how to say the words instead of garbling.
 
“The therapist was so in tune with me and really cared what was going on with me,” Robin said. “She was very helpful giving me ideas to think about and things to do.”
 
One of the students asked Robin what was the most exciting skill she got back from therapy and she said writing a paper on the Gospel of John. After writing the paper, Robin was able to go to her Bible study class to talk about it.
 
Michael French said the University and people at the Community Recreation Center knew Robin and were very supportive. The couple have friends who take her to the rec center, and the Bowling Green community has been great, he said.
 
“Like the grieving process, part of this is acceptance,” he said. “We cope with it because this is what we have, but if 2004 didn’t happen we wouldn’t have had this experience to share with you. You may go back and share this with your family and others and learn from it.
 
“Never, ever say ‘I’m just a student,’ or ‘I’m just a graduate student,’ because the role you play working with people is so important,” he said. “Learn your subject. When faculty expects you to know anatomy, etc., it’s so you will be automatically capable of doing your job.”