- Brian Bulls developed a brain haemorrhage while running at the age of 26, causing her to become paralyzed and aphasic.
- The condition affects language comprehension and speech. It is relatively common but awareness is delayed.
- Bowles were judged by TSA agents and tourism workers, who may have thought she was drunk.
Brian Bowles had a day off from her job as a critical care nurse in Anchorage, Alaska, when the 26-year-old decided to go for a run. I collapsed by jogging.
A bystander named 911 and Bulls was taken to the hospital. One of the first things Bulls remembers is trying to ask the question, “What happened?” In the hospital, but the sound comes out only “you-you-you”. “All the time, I can see it in my head, but when I’m talking, I can’t say it,” Bowles told Insider.
It turns out that Bulls had a ruptured brain aneurysm, leaving her with paralysis and aphasia, or impaired understanding of language and speech.
Now, nearly three years later, Bowles can walk unaided and communicate better, but he continues to undergo speech therapy for the aphasia. She is passionate about educating others about this condition, which is often misjudged.
“I really want everyone to know about aphasia and what people need, because it’s hard to talk,” Bowles said. She added that people think that people with aphasia are “stupid or think they drink.”
Bowles spent months in hospital and is still unemployed
Bowles spent 30 days in the intensive care unit, and underwent five major brain surgeries and 10 weeks of inpatient rehab.
While a Bulls tear could have happened at any time, the increased blood flow to the brain while running is likely to be the cause, Bowles’ mother, Robin, told Insider.
However, Bulls considers conditions “ideal,” because she was close to good medical care and treated by her friends and colleagues, including her boyfriend, fellow ICU nurse Derek Hellwig.
She continues to work on reading, writing and speech therapy with the support of her family and Hellwig, who now live with her in Arizona. Although she was unable to return to nursing, she volunteered with various aphasia groups, including a group she organized called the head of my tongue.
She said, “I’m not a nurse now, but I’m going to do something great.”
Bowles says she struggled to bypass airport security
Bowles said she once presented a card to a TSA agent stating she had aphasia and asking for “female help” because the devices in her brain could not pass through a metal detector.
But the agent refused, saying, “We don’t need to see this. Just tell me what’s going on,” according to Bowles.
“I’m like, ‘That’s why I made this for you. Can you read it?’ That’s why I want people to know what aphasia is,” said Bowles.
Again, when Bowles was visiting the Grand Canyon, I asked a staff member for directions to the restroom. Since the words ‘left’ and ‘right’ sound similar to it, I paused before moving on to the correct word. When I left, I mistakenly tried only the entrance door.
“Can’t you read?” sneered the employee. Bulls said. “They thought I was drunk because I couldn’t read ‘left, right, up, down,'” said Robin. “This was the only time someone’s judgment made Bowles cry.
Aphasia is relatively common but not recognized
Aphasia, which usually occurs after a stroke or other brain injury, affects more than 2 million Americans of all ages, according to Aphasia.org. But awareness is late.
“I think as a society, we tend to judge people by the way they communicate, and it’s normal for people to kind of think they’re stupid or not smart,” Bull’s speech pathologist Brooke Lange told Insider. But “all that knowledge is still there, they have trouble getting to the language part.”
For Bulls, the condition means she has a slight infatuation with certain words and an occasional stutter. Also, sometimes it takes more time to find the right words. Difficulty understanding opposites is also common among aphasia patients, Lang said, adding that numbers can also be tricky.
They help Bowles hear and see the time of an appointment, for example. She also said she wished everyone could come up with a translation.
“You’ve got people saying, ‘Well, if you can’t speak, why not just learn sign language?'” Lang said. “But this language, too. The same mistakes they make verbally will show up in their gestures.”
There is no cure for aphasia, and treatment – speech and language therapy – can be expensive, and requires a lot of practice and support. The more intensive programs cost upwards of $40,000 for six weeks, and are not covered by insurance, Lang said.
“This can happen to anyone,” Robin said. “A little kindness and respect for others’ journey goes a long way.”