Tony's Story

Recovery from a traumatic brain injury (TBI)

Tony tells the story of his traumatic brain injury and the recovery process using virtual speech, language, & voice therapy.

He discovered the importance of making slow daily progress and trusting in his caregivers' advice. Tony applied the same dedication to practice that he learned in football and music to his recovery.

This is a conversation between Tony and his Senior Speech-Language Pathologist Allison Baird in Manitoba, Canada.

Watch the full conversation

32 minutes

1. Tony's traumatic brain injury

On a cold winter day, ice slid off the parapet of a building and struck Tony's head.

He developed a traumatic brain injury, and that is where his story of recovery began.

Watch video clip

2. Communication challenges

After the injury, Tony lost the ability to communicate due to severe dysfluency (stutter), word-finding problems, and severe memory problems. He also lost his personality and developed a very flat expression.

Watch video clip

3. Stuttering & dysfluency

In his journal, Tony wrote: "I'm going to sound like a skipping record for the rest of my life."

Simple tasks like calling a cab or ordering a pizza were initially impossible.

Watch video clip

4. Finding emotional balance

After his injury, Tony developed emotional irregularity and difficulty.

He worked with his care team to regain stability that he could build upon in other parts of his recovery.

Watch video clip

5. Anxiety from appointments

Initially, leaving the house to go to his speech-language appointments caused anxiety. Tony's heart rate would skyrocket to 130 beats a minute on the cab ride to the appointment, and he would arrive drenched in sweat.

Tony was driven to overcome these challenges. With time he not only overcome his anxiety about speech-language appointments but came to love them.

Watch video clip

6. Memory and note-taking

After the traumatic brain injury, Tony found he had to be more attentive to ensure his memory was accurate.

By being attentive to regular note-taking during and after his speech-therapy sessions, he treated his recovery "like a classroom" and improved his memory.

Watch video clip

7. On doubt in recovery

After the traumatic brain injury (TBI), even simple tasks like speaking, moving, eating were challenging.

Despite wanting to believe that he would become better, there was always a creeping doubt in the back of Tony's mind that made it hard to believe that he would become better.

Having people around him and a care team was an essential part of recovery.

Watch video clip

8. On hope in recovery

Before Tony could genuinely believe that he would start to get better, he needed to "fake-it-before-you-make-it". Positive self-talk helped him buy into his recovery plan and the goals he wanted to achieve.

Recovering from a significant traumatic brain incident is a slow process. At the start, it was hard to believe that things would improve.

Buying into his complete recovery plan with his speech therapist, counsellor, neurologist, and physiotherapist was essential in helping him make progress.

Once Tony started to see a bit of progress in his speech and language, he wanted to push himself to achieve more significant results.

Watch video clip

9. "I thouht you would fix me"

At the start of recovery, Tony thought that his speech-language pathologist would "fix him." Originally, he thought he would be "told" what he needs to do once a week in speech therapy and he would be fixed.

Tony soon realized that recovery involved his own effort, practice, and dedication.

"It was frustrating in the beginning." But in the end, Tony was very happy once he took charge of his recovery process and made it part of his daily routine.

Watch video clip

10. Prioritizing practice

Every day we only have a certain energy budget of what we can do.

A critical part of Tony's recovery was ensuring he prioritized within his energy budget the five most important parts of his recovery: physical exercise, stretching, speech therapy, journaling, shower, and eating.

Everything beyond these core steps was extra.

Watch video clip

11. Not over practicing

During football training, Tony learned to push his body past the point of exhaustion. Initially, he brought this mentality of intensive training into his practice exercises.

However, Tony quickly realized that he needed to listen to his body and not overexert himself when recovering from his traumatic brain injury.

When Tony needed a break from heavier practice exercises, Tony would switch to lighter exercises, which for him is singing.

As time progressed, Tony's capacity for longer practice sessions increased. However, Tony is careful to monitor and stayed within his daily energy budget so that he can have energy to practice over the long run.

Watch video clip

12. Developing a love of practice

Tony developed a love of practice when he played football and studied music.

He brought these skills of being detail-oriented and paying attention to how he practices speech, language, and voice exercises.

Watch video clip

13. Using video to practice

During Tony's recovery, he needed to overcome a flat personality and monotone voice resulting from his injury.

With the help of his son, Tony set up a video camera and watched how he sounded and looked when speaking.

Tony initially found it embarrassing to watch himself on video. He even found the footage initially a bit demoralizing and was sure he would never get better.

He forced himself to regularly follow his practice exercises, even though he was skeptical they would work.

Through regular practice and carefully studying how he was practicing the exercises by recording himself on video, Tony started to make progress.

Watch video clip

14. Tony's: Ma Me Mi Mo Mu

Tony practices the Ma Me Mi Mo Mu exercises to help reintegrate his voice, facial expression, and gestures.

He practiced this exercise with different types of emotions to broaden the range of expressions he could develop.

These exercises look easy today, but at the start of Tony's recovery, each activity was challenging to learn.

Watch video clip

15. Closing thoughts: trust the process

Tony's closing thought on his speech and language recovery process is the importance of "buying into the recovery process."

At the start, it seemed impossible for Tony to believe that he would get better. This made practicing the exercises hard.

Tony's advice to others is to trust your care team and work each day on your practice exercises. Progress come slowly and from daily dedication.

Watch video clip
This interview was conducted and published with the express permission of its participants.

Ready to learn more?
Get started today.