Carl McIntyre of Laurinburg speaks to graduate students in Dr. Monica Hough's class on Wednesday afternoon. Photo by Cliff Hollis.
(Apr. 14, 2011)
Carl McIntyre once defined himself as salesman, actor, father, husband and friend. He had a "golden tongue." But a stroke five years ago left him almost speechless, a condition known as aphasia.
His life is different now. And that's okay.
"Stroke happens to a lot of people," he said. "I think I’m lucky because I’m better. What is, is." After five years of intense speech and occupational therapy, McIntyre regained his ability to speak, improved his vocabulary and coordination. He's not paralyzed, although his right side sometimes still hurts. He had hearing loss. He overcame depression.
His purpose now is bringing awareness about stroke and aphasia, speaking to speech language pathology students on college campuses, and touring the world promoting his movie “Aphasia.”
"I think people need hope," McIntyre said. "Every day is better." More than 100 people attended a screening Wednesday night in the auditorium of the East Carolina Heart Institute at East Carolina University.
The fast-moving 40-minute film starts the day of the stroke, Sept. 15, 2005. McIntyre, then 44, is putting his two young children to bed while his wife, Elizabeth, and older daughter Grace are away at Girl Scouts in Charlotte.
After the stroke, he manages to pull himself down the hallway toward a phone he can’t reach. It was at least 30 minutes before his wife and daughter returned home to call for help.
“Time is brain,” McIntyre said, referring to a critical three-hour response window for stroke patients.
Many survivors are told recovery plateaus between six months and a year and half, and after 18 months, little recovery is made. But McIntyre defied those statistics. He still could only say a few words and insurance coverage for therapy was ending at 18 months. He enrolled in a research study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which provided additional rehabilitation.
In 2008, McIntyre began making presentations to speech language pathology classes about his experience. Early on, he told friends Michael Mattison and Jim Gloster, writer and director of the movie, he wanted to tell his story.
The success of the presentations led to the movie, which was shot in eight days in Gloster's house. It was presented last May at the 40th anniversary of the speech language and hearing clinic at UNC and is now enjoying artistic recognition on the film festival circuit. More than 200 North Carolina film artists volunteered their time to make the movie. Most had worked with and knew McIntyre before his stroke.
Gloster saw remarkable improvement in McIntyre’s speech after the movie was scripted and rehearsals began, he said. While McIntyre couldn’t read the script, he remembered his part through constant rehearsing. The men met more than 20 years ago at the Charlotte Shakespeare Company.
"There's no time limit on learning for anybody," McIntyre said. McIntyre hopes the movie helps erase misconceptions such as people with aphasia are stupid. The disorder impairs a person’s ability to process language but does not affect intelligence.
"I'm no dummy," he said. McIntyre's cognitive abilities are intact and his memory and reasoning skills are sharp.
He shared his technique of drawing pictures to help remember specific words with Dr. Monica Hough’s class of ECU communication sciences and disorders graduate students earlier Wednesday.
Student Samantha Eckert said the presentation was very informative. "You see how difficult it must be for him to communicate, and how far he has come," she said.
ECU clinical supervisor Sherri Winslow said it's important for students to interact and learn from people who have aphasia. "It increases our empathy for our patients," she said.
Aphasia affects about one million Americans, or 1 in 300 people. Each year more than 100,000 people in the United States develop the disorder. It is more common than Parkinson's disease, cerebral palsy or muscular dystrophy, but most people have never heard of aphasia. While the most common cause is stroke, aphasia can result from head injury, brain tumor or other neurological causes.