It was Oct. 13, 2008 when Karen Kelly received a call that would change her and her family’s lives forever. She was told that her mother, Joanne Coggins, who was visiting a friend in North Carolina, had a staph infection from dental work she had weeks earlier and was going to need surgery for acute bacterial endocarditis. Doctors needed to remove a growth on her heart which was caused by the acute bacterial endocarditis. During surgery, a piece of the growth detached and traveled to her brain, causing her to have a stroke.
Karen and her sisters rushed to North Carolina to be by their mother’s side. Because of the stroke, Joanne lost her abilities to speak (termed aphasia) and eat and had no strength to be able to walk. The right side of her body was also affected.
Because Joanne was being treated in a North Carolina hospital, staff expected her to receive care at a nursing home or acute rehabilitation center in the state, despite Karen’s wishes to take her home to Massachusetts. The judge granted Karen temporary guardianship of her mother, who was unable to communicate on her own behalf, so that she could be transported to Massachusetts for care.
Joanne received occupational, physical and speech therapy. She learned to swallow and eat again—both enormous accomplishments—and was able to regain enough strength to walk. Joanne now lives at home with a 24-hour caretaker. However, her aphasia continues to be a challenge.
“Everything she can do we’re so grateful for,” explains Karen. “Over time she has learned to compensate [speech] communication skills by learning different ways to communicate.”
Regardless, Joanne’s aphasia is a constant struggle. Joanne is aware of what is happening around her and knows what she wants to communicate, but is unable to find the words, which can be incredibly frustrating for her. “It really upsets her,” Karen says.