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Giving them a Voice

Human Interest

5/31/2012 - Giving them a Voice 

“It’s only words, and words are all I have”, goes a song by the Bee Gees. It brings to mind how important speech pathologists are in helping us communicate. Once referred to as “speech teachers” SLPs are now found in many different settings; in schools, care homes, inpatient rehab hospitals and assisted living facilities.

Susan Pollesel, a speech pathologist at Ukiah Valley Medical Center has been helping patients speak or regain their ability to speak through regular therapy.

With a master’s degree in speech pathology and audiology, Susan says she decided to make it her life’s work after seeing a cerebral palsy man as a child. “He would always come by our house to sell candy. I saw how his words failed him and my tears fell for him.”

Years later, Susan now has a career that has helped give an injured teenager back his voice, teach a deaf child his first sign, allowed an autistic child to utter his first sentence and restore a stroke victim’s speech.

Susan works with those who have been injured or have conditions that cause them to lose their ability to speak, also known as aphasia. Aphasia is the full or partial loss of verbal communication skills due to damage or degeneration of the brain's language centers. Approximately one million Americans currently suffer from one of the various forms of aphasia, and an additional 80,000 new cases occur annually. Aphasia is caused by damage to the brain, such as stroke and dementia. For stroke patients, SLPs work on “retraining” tongue muscle using throat physical therapy to strengthen oral motor functions.

Congresswoman Gabby Giffords’ story is one remarkable example of the power of speech therapy. Ten months after losing her ability to speak due to a bullet to her brain, Giffords was able to speak again through extensive speech therapy.

Aside from helping rehab patients, SLPs also play a great role in the school setting, helping kids with speech delay and other forms of speech disorder. Susan helps babies to learn how to swallow as well as suck, which is essential for soothing and getting nourishment.

She also works with children who have difficulty speaking or expressing themselves, by using pictures and key words. Although speech pathology services are available to school districts, Susan says parents come to her for individual therapy for their kids. She also works with kids with special needs, having developed a program for autistic children that encourages them to, either begin speaking or use sign language through cooking.

When asked what she loves most about her job, “I feel blessed to have been given the chance to help people regain their life by giving them their voice back. When people get injured and they are able to speak again, it gives them a sense of hope,” says Susan.

Susan sees patients at UVMC’s physical therapy office at 404 Perkins in Ukiah. To schedule an appointment, call (707) 463-7346.

(Pictured: Speech Pathologist, Susan Pollesel, engages a patient in a communication exercise.)

-- UVMC --