YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Actor Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with aphasia, but what is it and how does it affect the brain? We found out from a person who has it and a person who studies it.
Youngstown’s Tom Dundics, founder of Grey Matter Leather, works on bags, belts and other leather goods in his basement. Ten years ago at the age of 40, he had a stroke and a blood clot affected the side of his brain.
“Ellie looked at me when I walked in, and I was like [moves glasses sideways on his head],” Dundics said.
Dundics has a picture on his phone of the damage in his brain. It led to aphasia.
“Ten years ago, I can’t speak. The dog, I can’t say, ‘Coco.’ I can’t do nothing,” Dundics said.
Speech therapy has helped. He still can’t read and talking can be difficult as Dundics tries to recall a word.
Dundics was a top-notch engineer but lost his job. Now, he concentrates on the leather works. He even made his own hat.
“It’s difficult every day. One day it’s good, next day it’s not good,” Dundics said.
Jeanette Benigas is a college professor in this field at Indiana University South Bend. She welcomes more understanding about aphasia.
“They are just having trouble understanding or getting out the language. It’s not a reflection of intelligence,” Benigas said.
Benigas is following the Willis diagnosis. She is a speech-language pathologist and says it’s important to work with people to help them learn to come up with new words if they can’t find the word they want to access, or use an alternative form of communication. She also feels it’s important to know that people with aphasia can still participate in life.
“Because they’re still in there. They still know what’s going on, they still understand. They’re just having trouble with the language,” Benigas said.
Benigas believes Willis might have a different aphasia than the traditional aphasia, and expects more information to come out.
She said people are making gains five, 10, 15 years out from the injury that caused aphasia, and it all depends on how much work they put into rehab.