Rita and Blair Justice (photo on right) were amazed to find out that no classes were available to help Blair learn to speak after his stroke in 2006. Blair had had a distinguished career in public health and had written six books, none of which he could remember. He didn't speak for almost a year.
Rita refused to accept that Blair's situation was hopeless and began to systematically research what was being done elsewhere. She soon discovered that there were aphasia recovery centers around the United States and Canada, yet in the fourth-largest city in the country, no such center existed.
The next year, at a stroke seminar, Rita and Blair met Doris and Rick Spengler (photo on right). Doris had also suffered a debilitating stroke. The two couples instantly bonded and committed to creating a place in Houston where people could practice communicating, and caregivers could receive the kind of support that was found elsewhere.
What the Justices and the Spenglers had learned first- hand was that after about three months of treatment, those with aphasia were deemed to have reached a plateau, and further treatment was neither covered by insurance nor readily available.
But everything they read clearly demonstrated that people who have diminished communication abilities can continue to improve when they regularly participate in conversation programs. Brains continue to change and develop when they are stimulated. However, if there is no safe haven in which to practice or opportunities for cognitive stimulus, the various forms for communicating are greatly reduced, if not lost all together.
Soon they met Dr. Lynn M. Maher, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at the University of Houston (photo on left). As luck would have it her specialty was working with people with aphasia. After numerous trips to aphasia centers around the country, countless exchanges of information with those who had launched successful groups in other cities, numerous meetings and a good bit of personal dreaming, the five intrepid founders decided to create an aphasia center in Houston.
In the winter of 2009, these individuals formalized their intentions and became the founding Board of Directors for the Houston Aphasia Recovery Center, or HARC.
With the guidance of non-profit advisors, the Board created a detailed three-year strategic plan with mission and vision statements. The first drop-in group began in the spring of 2009 at the University of Houston. After the initial semester's group, the HARC Board secured a space that would accommodate an expanding program, with a space for caregivers and administrative offices. HARC officially opened for business in February of 2010.
There is nothing so precious as the ability to understand and be understood. Removing these basic tools leads to unspeakable isolation and loneliness. People with aphasia have the right to be engaged in society. The Houston Aphasia Recovery Center adds an obvious missing piece to Houston's extraordinary medical community and will generate hope and dignity to those who have lost so much.