Care and Inspiration:
Inspired by his SLP, recovered stroke patient Scott
Janokowski now wants to do more good with his life
A Night that Changed Everything
College sophomore Scott Janokowski took great pride in his
role on the varsity debate team. An accomplished football and
baseball player, Scott also sailed through his academic
requirements, maintaining a 3.8 average during his freshman and
At 19 years of age, his life was on a fast-track to success.
Then, without warning, on one December night in 2004, everything
During final exam time just before Christmas, while exercising
in his parents' basement, Scott experienced an agonizing pain
on one side of his body. "When I got up from doing pushups,
my left shoulder felt a sharp pain, like a bear clawing it,"
Scott recalls. "The pain was intense. I tried to tell my
parents I needed help but couldn't get any words
His right side was paralyzed, and when he tried to stand up,
he found he could not. Scott's parents called 911, and the
medics transported him to the local hospital. From there, he was
transferred to University of Michigan Hospital by helicopter.
Scott went into a coma for three days and was hospitalized for
After his release from the hospital, he began rehabilitation
therapy. His treatment took place at Wayne State University
Speech and Language Center in Detroit, Michigan, and began just a
few weeks after his stroke.
"My debate coach, George Zieglemueller, was friends with
the pathologists at the University clinic," says Scott.
"He is the one who set up my appointments there. My mother
didn't realize there was such an excellent, affordable
facility so close to us."
A New Patient Faces the Challenge
When Scott arrived at the Wayne State clinic in January, 2005,
he was in desperate need of help.
Center Director Kristine Sbaschnig remembers that first
encounter, which occurred about a month after Scott was stricken.
"He was completely non-verbal. He could not speak, and it
was not clear whether he could even understand or process words
spoken to him. His body had been paralyzed on one side. To be
honest, when I met him I had no idea if he could
Injuries such as Scott's happen quickly. At any given
moment, speech language pathologists and professionals must be
ready to aggressively treat patients, in order to have the most
impact on their lives.
Kristine managed the team of SLPs that would handle
Scott's case at Wayne State over the coming months. As a
teaching institution, the Speech and Language Center employs
supervised graduate students to take a primary role in seeing and
treating patients, as part of their clinical training. This
arrangement helps ease the financial burden for patients, as
services are offered at a more affordable rate.
In Scott's case, a different graduate student studying in
the University's Audiology and Speech Language Pathology
Department would take over his case at the beginning of each new
semester. The workload and specific therapies would change
according to where Scott was in his recovery.
Fifty-minute therapy sessions were held four times a week,
with an extra group session held on Fridays. Scott's case was
unusual in that his stroke was so severe, and because it happened
when he was so young.
"He had a big challenge ahead of him," recalls
Kristine. "Verbalization is so crucial. It's a big loss
when that ability disappears. He could not understand other
people, he had trouble processing what he was hearing, he really
had to work extra hard on that. Plus he could no longer write.
Our clinicians identified with his struggles and did all they
could to help."
A Meaningful Encounter
One clinician, Amy Thompson, a third-year SLP graduate
student, took over Scott's case about two years into his
recovery, in January 2007. Just a few years older than her
patient, Amy connected with Scott immediately, both
professionally and psychologically.
"I saw this patient, Scott, who as a student had many of
the same interests and concerns that I had," says Amy.
"He was also willing to work incredibly hard on his
recovery. I did my best to become his advocate."
When Amy began working with Scott, he had already come a long
way, but was having difficulty reading, writing and speaking
aloud in class. His therapy was centered on increasing function
in a number of areas, including comprehending grammar, processing
language, formulating coherent sentences and acquiring the skills
he needed to speak in public.
"I tailored our activities to what was most important to
him and his goals," Amy recalls. "I feel like I had an
amazing opportunity to connect with him because it is so rare
that our patients are fellow students."
Amy's path to becoming Scott's clinician was not an
ordinary journey. Before beginning her speech and hearing
studies, she had been a journalism student and already had three
associate degrees under her belt: in applied sciences, liberal
arts and massage therapy.
"I have always been interested in words and
language," she says. "But medicine has also been a
passion of mine." She got excited about the idea of pursuing
a career as a Speech Language Pathologist when introduced to it
in one of her classes.
She is thrilled with the prospect of becoming a certified
Speech Language Pathologist. "This training has been intense
and structured, but an amazing experience. This pursuit is the
best decision I ever made," Amy says.
A Trying Recovery - and a New Life
Scott had to start at the very beginning-identifying pictures
on flash cards, and mastering basic language processing-steps
that took several months. "I would work toward certain
benchmarks," he recalls. "For instance, learning to
speak in a full sentence, which took about three months, or
beginning to read, which also took about three months."
"Word recall and concept recall was unbelievably hard
work. It was totally draining. My clinicians and my mother kept
on me to practice, even when I didn't want to."
"It was inspiring and humbling to watch Scott push and
push and push," Amy says. "He would tell me, 'No, I
need more' when he wasn't there yet with a step we were
taking. He felt so comfortable in our program at Wayne State.
There was an endless amount of support. Really, this program was
the best thing that could have happened to him."
The bonds that Amy and her fellow clinicians created with
Scott, and the therapies they worked on together, proved strong
enough to make a spectacular difference.
Less than three years after his debilitating stroke, Scott has
re-enrolled in school full time and has even taken his old slot
back on the debate team. He says writing is still hard,
especially because of the paralysis on his right side, but he has
adapted and become ambidextrous with most tasks.
"I can guarantee that if I didn't have my clinicians,
I would not have made this progress," he says.
Inspired by those who cared for him during his illness, he is
pursuing a career in nursing. Amy encouraged Scott in this
pursuit, researched his options and helped him apply to the
programs that interested him.
"The difference between who I am now and who I was before
my stroke is enormous," says Scott. "There is no return
to where I was before. I have a new appreciation for the
disabled, for anyone in a sad situation. Before my stroke, I was
far more egocentric and individualistic; my career path was about
making money. There is so much more good I can do-that we can all
do. I realize that now."
Like Scott, Amy Thompson's feelings about the work she
does reflect strong personal values.
"This profession is such a great fit for me," she
says. "I feel like we are contributing to humanity and to
the recovery of people who have been through so much. I have
found my purpose in life."