“Trish had a massive stroke.” I’ll never forget the call from a friend, telling me the news about my dear friend of nearly 25 years. I barely registered the words. My mind reeled with thoughts about what this might mean for Trish.

Friends for Life

I met Trish Hambridge at UC Santa Barbara, where we worked in the dining commons dish-room together. Her acerbic wit made me believe she didn’t like me at first, but we became fast friends. We played and worked together in college, and after college as I married and started a family, she was there with us all the time, driving across the country to go camping while I was on break from classes for my Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology; taking many trips, including Washington DC, Hawaii, and Alaska (where she planned an amazing 2-week vacation for her, our friend, and my young family); or arranging for friends and us to participate in athletic events like 3-on-3 street basketball tournaments.

She would come visit at the drop of a hat for any life event for me or my family, even down to being there to buy the “big boy bed” for my toddler son. We never lived closer than 300 miles after college, but it seemed as if we lived around the corner from each other. Trish is one of my most favorite people on the planet.

Pre-Stroke Friendship

Language after Stroke

A couple days after I received the call, I was in my car at the crack of dawn to drive north on California Highway 101 to visit her in her hospital room. Trish has a wide social circle and a tight family. She was surrounded by family and friends, including her Mom, who had experienced a medical emergency of her own on the airplane on the way, and was conveniently housed in a hospital room just down the hall!

“This is why I’m a Speech-Language Pathologist,” I realized, as I put on my SLP hat and sat down to assess my friend. Trish’s language was severely impaired, both expressively and receptively, and it was obvious she had significant oral apraxia. She could only utter “yes” and “no,” which were unreliable. Her reading comprehension was her strongest modality, but that was also quite impaired. She was one of the most severe aphasics I had seen in my 20 years of being a SLP.

Trish and her friends and family gathered with me on a patio in the acute hospital, and I gave an in-service about stroke and aphasia and what it meant for Trish. I’ll never forget the look on Trish’s face when I told the group that Trish had experienced a stroke. I don’t think anyone had told Trish that yet, or at least she hadn’t understood until that moment.

In the hospital with aphasia after stroke

Trish has aphasia after a stroke in 2008.

As the weeks and months passed, I drove every weekend to be with her and her family, helping her and her Dad to navigate the medical maze and help the transition from acute hospital to the in-patient rehabilitation, to home, and to the intensive speech therapy program at the University of Michigan. It was an honor to be of help, and it reinforced again and again the gratefulness I have for my life path.

I kept my SLP hat on much of the time, doing therapy tasks and developing communication boards for Trish; encouraging her to write or draw when she couldn’t come up with a word (which was most of the time); making her write grocery lists; encouraging her to do her speech homework. Through it all, though, Trish remained Trish.

She maintained her determination, intelligence, and her acerbic wit. She never showed much frustration. She would keep at it until she found a way to communicate, and she could crack us up with a joke using just a gesture or a single word. To this day, seven years later, she is still the same amazing Trish. She is a master problem-solver and planner, she is easy-going, she is funny as heck, and she maintains her wide social circle and activities. I still rely on her for vacation planning!

Life Goes on with Aphasia

And as the months passed into years, my SLP hat has come off and I wear my Friend hat most of the time. We still travel together. Since her stroke, we have traveled to England and Ireland, San Francisco, Grand Canyon, Alaska, and Mexico. We have taken three cruises together, including two with the Aphasia Recovery Connection.

Post-Stroke Friendship is Unchanged

Our communication is relaxed and patient. It’s rare these days that I “make her” say a word. I don’t do therapy tasks with her (but I still encourage her to do her speech homework!). I do cue her when I feel it is appropriate, and I’ll often chime in to tell a story that she is struggling to tell, but I try to always ask permission first. I try to live the life of the communication partner that I encourage my patients’ families to be: a communication partner first, in whatever that may look like, and a speech policeman second. Trish makes it easy, as she is determined to communicate and has found many tools to help her. Since we have known each other so long, we’re pretty good communication partners. It still takes time and patience at times, but she perseveres and continues to try to communicate. She rarely gives up.

Fittingly, Trish writes a blog to educate other stroke survivors on what she has learned, and she posts about strategies, products, and services, among other subjects. I have the honor of being on her “advisory staff” and have helped her write some of her posts. We Skype occasionally, and I put into words the ideas that she conveys.

Trish (with the help of her Dad) said this about our relationship: “I’m grateful to you for all the guidance you have given my friends about what Aphasia is and how they need to be more patient with me when I am trying to speak to them. I also appreciate the help that you have given me in converting my writing into something that reads better and makes more sense. Also your ability to interpret what I was really trying to say. You are obviously a very talented writer.”

Recently, a relative of a person with aphasia told Trish, “You are so great and so much fun. I wish I had known you before your stroke.” I simply said, “She’s still the same.” And it’s true. Trish is still Trish, through and through. You’d be lucky to know her. Trish is my hero. And she’ll always be one of my most favorite people on the planet.

Trish Hambridge and Karen Little

Blogger Bios

Karen Eutsler Little, MS, CCC-SLP (pictured on right), is a speech-language pathologist with more than 25 years of experience in a variety of medical settings. She received a B.A. in English and Developmental Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from Rutgers. She currently resides in Santa Barbara, CA and works in skilled nursing and home health.

Trish Hambridge (pictured on left) was a project manager at Apple prior to her stroke. She received her B.A. in History from the University of California, Santa Barbara. She lives in Campbell, CA. She writes a blog called Stroke Survivor Strategies.