Support group helps those with communication disorder

About two million Americans suffer from aphasia, a disorder that impairs the ability to process language, according to the National Aphasia Association. The founder of a La Crosse support group hopes that the meetings give people a place to share the highs and lows of living with the disorder.

As a speech and language pathologist at Gundersen Health System, Vicki Monk works with people suffering from mild, moderate, severe or non-verbal variations of aphasia. It’s typically acquired after suffering a stroke, but can also be caused by a head injury, disease or tumor.

“Lot of them recover fully, some of them don’t. So then, sometimes they develop different kinds of communication,” said Monk.

Monk started the group about 17 years ago because there wasn’t a place for people to turn to at the time.

“People after a stroke, if they have aphasia, they really feel isolated. And, they need to have that bond with other individuals– kind of go through that journey together,” Monk said.

While members usually meet at Gundersen’s La Crosse campus, Monk opened her home for the holidays because she says there’s a lot to celebrate.

Since she had a stroke five years ago, Bobbi Sevier has learned how to walk and drive again. She gets to share these milestones with people who understand how hard she’s worked for it.

The group is also open to friends and family members like Joyce Johnson, who attends the group with her husband, Rick. She says the group has helped him open up since he had a stroke in 2014.

“His voice is different and he doesn’t like to talk because it’s different. But if you get him in a group, he will talk,” said Johnson.

And for her, the space made her realize that she’s not alone. There’s always someone to talk to.

The free group meets at 10 AM on the last Saturday of every month in the first floor patient education room at Gundersen’s main clinic. To pre-register, please contact Vicki Monk at (608) 775-3050 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 53050.