A U.S. man is learning to speak again at Dalhousie University, a year after his brain was badly damaged in an assault.
Thomas "TC" Maslin was an economist in Washington, D.C. He was walking home last year when he was jumped and beaten with a baseball bat. The attack shattered his skull and damaged his optic nerve and brain.
'It's almost as if someone has been transported to another country where they don't know the language.'—Linda Wozniak
A man who once regularly read The Economist, he had to re-learn how to read children’s books. His goal was to be able to read to his two-year-old son, Jack.
"Reading makes sense, writing is fine. It's mostly 'Can I speak?' That's the hard part, but it'll happen eventually," he said.
Maslin, 30, has aphasia, a condition brought on by stroke or brain injury that affects a person’s ability to communicate, but not their intelligence.
He is being treated at Dalhousie’s School of Human Communications on Barrington Street in Halifax. The INTERACT program is designed for people who've had strokes or traumatic brain injuries.
People come from all around the world for intensive month-long programs for communications disorders.
Maslin and his wife, Abby, decided the Dalhousie program was their best shot at getting back to normal.
"I think the first seven to eight months, I didn't understand what was going on, to be honest. I had no idea. A lot of it was medication, sleeping like half the time. It was confusing," he said.
The man convicted of attacking Maslin was sentenced to 24 years in a U.S. prison earlier this year.
Long road to recovery
Linda Wozniak is the director of INTERACT, which stands for Intensive Residential Aphasia Communications Therapy. She said aphasia can be a disorienting experience.
"It's almost as if someone has been transported to another country where they didn't know the language. That's a little bit what it's like for someone with aphasia," she said.
The program costs $18,000. It includes one-on-one sessions, physical therapy and field trips. The trips let people try out their new skills.
"Going to the coffee shops, going to the grocery store, going to the library, going to museums, asking questions — all those things that involve communication," Wozniak said. "It's important to take therapy out of the therapy room and practice the skills they're learning outside. It's all about getting back to life and activities."
With Wozniak's help, Maslin is learning how to find his words again. He read to his son a couple of months ago — for the first time since the attack.
Maslin will be reunited with his family this weekend. One syllable at a time, he's getting his life back.
"The different parts of my life — family, work, health, friends, and peace," he said. "It's kind of like circle — what is it? Full circle, full circle. It's amazing."