The Birth of the Adler Aphasia Center

Elaine and Mike Adler

More than 18 years ago, prominent businessman Mike Adler had a stroke and developed aphasia. Following bypass surgery, a blood clot developed and went to his brain. This was a man with a successful global marketing business with more than 500 employees, a world traveller, and the financial resources to make things happen. Now he couldn’t walk or talk and his cognitive skills were weak.

“I was a man with the best doctors and a wonderful, understanding caregiver, yet I couldn’t find my way,” said Adler. He thought about all the people who also had aphasia and didn’t have the access to care that he had. After many frustrating attempts at progress with five different speech therapists, Mike and his wife Elaine hired a medical librarian to identify and research the resources available to people with aphasia. Dr. Audrey Holland’s name appeared on more than one site. She was considered an expert on the subject and was a professor at the University of Arizona at the time. She now serves as Director of Research and Education for the Adler Aphasia Center. Then they discovered a program in London that had written a manual for treating people with aphasia. So the Adlers packed their bags and travelled to London as well as Toronto where people with aphasia were meeting regularly to redevelop their communication skills using the life-participation approach to aphasia. This is a consumer-driven service-delivery approach that supports individuals with aphasia and others affected by it used to achieve immediate and longer term life goals. There the Adlers learned that by empowering those with aphasia to get back to their active lives while recovering, their speech and self-confidence can improve meaningfully even years after a stroke.

After two years of research, developing a cadre of supporters and spreading the word about aphasia, the Adlers hired their first and still sitting executive director, Karen Tucker, to start the tedious process of creating a new non-profit service to the community. With just four members signed on – they are not called patients at the Center, to stress the non-medical environment of the Center- the Adler Aphasia Center opened its doors in 2003. Now with more than 50 members at the Center on any given day and more than 90 who are regular participants each week, with more than 90 volunteers to assist in all areas of the Center, with 15 professional staff to lead the charge, with more than 40 professionals that comprise their board of directors and as members of their elite scientific and clinical advisory committees, and with more than 750 individuals, foundations and organizations that donate to the Center each year, the Adler Aphasia Center has helped lay the groundwork for future centers. Mike and Elaine Adler had no idea that their journey would benefit so many. Asked what they are proudest of, Elaine responds, “From something bad came something good. Even with their communication disorders disrupting their lives, our members now know there can still be a good life after a diagnosis with aphasia.”

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