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Speech Therapy Key to Stroke Rehab, But Many Miss Out
Date:10/27/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Oct. 27 (HealthDay News) -- Like many stroke survivors, Casey Gwinn received only rudimentary speech therapy after suffering a massive stroke at the age of 37.

Gwinn had no insurance and spent a year-and-a-half completely isolated, unable to communicate, socialize or work until he fell into the lap of Austin Speech Labs in Texas, one of a handful of organizations cropping up around the country to help people like him regain their communication skills and rejoin the world.

"When he came to us, literally the only word he had was 'Hi,'" recalls Shilpa Shamapant, founder of Austin Speech Labs.

It's taken two-and-a-half years of intensive work, but Gwinn can now speak for himself.

"I talk a lot better than I used to partly because, before, I had no talk at all so that's great news," said Gwinn, now 41. "I can talk to you a little bit. It's a struggle but I can."

The need for speech therapy is "huge," said Darlene Williamson, vice president of programs for the National Aphasia Association. (Aphasia refers to the communication impairment that can occur after a stroke or head injury.)

Even people with health insurance often don't get the care they need, she said.

Medicare, for example, pays a maximum of $1,870 for speech and physical therapy combined.

And most insurance companies take their cue from Medicare, said Williamson, who is also director of The Stroke Comeback Center in Vienna, Va., a nonprofit organization providing affordable communication services to stroke survivors.

"That doesn't take you very far," she said.

"It's very, very difficult to get the reimbursement long-term [for speech therapy] and many people out there need it for a year or two," agreed Karen Riedel, director of speech-language pathology at the Rusk Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Somehow or other, we've gotten int
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