Christy served on the SRABC Board of Directors so we take special pleasure in sharing this story of life after stroke with you.
The average person draws upon a vocabulary of 10,000 to 20,000 words, but Christy Campbell was left with only one after a massive stroke when she was just 31 years old.
That word was “yes,” appropriate for what Campbell has been able to accomplish in the 10 years since. Her work to improve resources for stroke survivors left with aphasia is being recognized with a 2016 Courage To Come Back Award in the physical rehabilitation category.
Campbell, an aspiring biologist who had completed a Master’s degree and was working for Environment Canada, was left paralyzed on her right side, in chronic pain and unable to communicate after she suffered a stroke after a chiropractic treatment.
Through intensive therapy and rehabilitation, Campbell was able to learn how to walk and talk again, and ironically she’s become a spokeswoman for aphasia, a condition that “nobody really knows about,” she said.
“The problem with aphasia is that if you have it, you can’t be a spokesperson for it because you can’t speak, and if you can speak, they say, ‘What’s your problem?’” said Campbell.
The effects of her stroke aren’t readily noticeable, although she has limited use of her right hand and has had to learn how to write left-handed. She no longer is able to golf, hike, canoe or dance, and she struggles at times with words and relies on her husband and caregiver, Sean Standing, to help.
“When you lose your voice, you tend to retreat,” said Standing. “It’s unbelievably isolating. One’s ability to socialize disappears. People tend to recoil on themselves.”
But that wasn’t Campbell’s way.
She is unable to return to work, but three years ago she had a son, despite unfounded worries that she wouldn’t be able to read to him.
She and Standing attended intensive workshops and camps, which inspired them in 2010 to co-found the Sea to Sky Aphasia Camp in Squamish with a UBC professor. Over six years, 160 speech pathologists and survivors have attended the annual weeklong event.
Campbell has also volunteered on a number of advisory committees, is a peer mentor for stroke survivors and has successfully advocated to increase by 56 per cent the number of spots for students in UBC’s speech language pathology program.
“There is simply no better ambassador for living well with aphasia than Christy,” said speech pathologist Dr. Thomas Sather of the University of Wisconsin in his nomination letter.
Standing, who advocates for resources for caregivers, said Campbell’s recovery from her stroke has been an unexpectedly “wonderful” experience.
“Some of our dearest friends we met as a result of this horrible tragedy,” he said. “We wouldn’t have wished this to happen to us, but we’re truly blessed that this happened to Christy in B.C.,” where there was a willingness to improve recovery models.
And said Campbell in an email sent after the interview because she was unable to remember the quote at the time: “‘Sometimes the bad things that happen in our lives put us directly on the path to the best things that will ever happen to us.’
“I truly believe it,” she said.
For information on the gala, go to couragetocomeback.ca.
The original article appeared in The Vancouver Sun