(March 27, 2022 / JNS) On August 6, 2017, the residents of Efrat Eitan, Leora Ashman and their four children were making their final preparations for the next day’s family vacation. That night, Laura heard some rumbling from the kitchen downstairs. “I heard some chairs walking around, and I thought it was the dog,” she told JNS. Leora rushed to the kitchen, where she found Eitan on the floor unconscious. Medical staff were immediately called and Eitan was taken to the hospital.
It turns out that Eitan had had a severe left-sided ischemic stroke. Doctors determined that his carotid artery had ruptured, causing large blood clots that cut off blood flow to the brain, causing a stroke. Dr. Eli Ben-David, a family friend and neuroradiologist at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital, told the Jewish News Agency (JNS) that the situation was poignant as doctors were fighting to remove blood clots.
Eitan, the young man who was 42 at the time, survived the ordeal. But the sudden episode changed their lives forever.
“Eitan lost his right arm; he had a right-sided hemiplegia [weakness] Chronic pain, nervous exhaustion, memory loss and aphasia as a result of damage to the language center in the brain.”
Aphasia is a condition that deprives a person of the ability to communicate. It can affect one’s ability to speak, write, work with numbers and understand language, both orally and in writing. Liura said aphasia is a term about which the family had no prior information.
“We had to learn about it by living in it,” she said.
One day after the stroke, Leora opened a Facebook page called “Koach Eitan” (“The Power of Eitan”), with the goal of keeping family and friends up to date on the latest developments regarding Eitan’s recovery.
But the page has gone from being a place to post updates to a tool Ashmans use to educate about what aphasic people go through and, perhaps most importantly, to teach the general public how to communicate with those with aphasia at the same time. Promote their integration into society.
Fast-forward to last Wednesday night, about four and a half years after Eitan’s stroke — after a long and still ongoing period of recovery, treatments, successes, and setbacks — to an event in the conference room of Efrat Medical Center. Over 100 community members gathered to hear a presentation by Leora and Eitan, titled “The Koch Eitan Initiative: Education and Awareness About Stroke and Aphasia.”
Liora said it was held because “I decided we had to teach people, now that Eitan is ready to join the forces of teaching. You have to be very brave; you have to have a lot of courage to explain to people why you are what you are — why you can’t speak up.” You want to talk, but you have to teach them how. The person on the other side must be patient and must learn how to communicate.”
Eitan struggled but managed to share the room: “It’s frustrating to me. I know what I want to say but I can’t get the words out.”
Liora emphasized that “Aphasia is a loss of language, not thought. Aphasia is the invisible handicap. Everyone assumes that [Eitan] Fine. But in the bank or the supermarket, people like Eitan can’t say what they want to say, and no one knows how to help.”
During the show, Eitan raised his notebook – detailed cards with pictures and words, and on the cover wrote “My name is Eitan Ashman, and I have aphasia.” Eitan can point to pictures and words to explain to anyone who has what they want or need.
“It’s the other people who need to take the lead and ask questions,” Liora said. “In the supermarket, for example, if a supermarket employee knows that Eitan has aphasia, he’ll know to ask questions and not wait for Eitan to make the first move, which is the hardest thing.”
‘Empowering families and communities’
Tova Cern is a friend of the Ashmans family and is also the founder of SiMedic Trauma, a company that provides emergency first responders with unique training and simulation solutions. With over 25 years of field experience as an EMT itself, Cern has been developing educational tools for emergency assistance for two decades.
As a result of what happened to Eitan, she incorporated the topic of aphasia into her material so that first responders could quickly identify whether a person with aphasia had the disorder.
“Often, even emergency caregivers don’t know what aphasia is, and I really wanted to change that,” CERN told JNS. “It’s something to know; people need to know how to deal with it.”
Cern and her company produced an educational short film in collaboration with Efrat Medical Center and its CEO, Eyal Zahavi, for use by Koch Eitan, which was shown at the event. It is a simulation of a crisis in which a person with aphasia develops and cannot express what happened to him, or, for example, that his children are waiting to be picked up from school.
The film demonstrates how medical professionals must be patient and use the tools at their disposal, including picture charts, so that individuals with aphasia can communicate and receive appropriate care.
“What Eitan and Leora are doing is amazing. It’s so hard being in this situation where you can’t talk; it must be so frustrating, and to find the strength to do the job, I can’t tell you how much I admire them,” said Cern.
Leora continued to share that “Koach Eitan” has expanded by leaps and bounds, becoming much more than just a Facebook page.
With the goal of “empowering families and communities to help those battling the effects of stroke and aphasia,” group programs include offering educational workshops; use of social media platforms with media resources and other content; Educational events and the creation of a support network for families.
“What we are trying to do is teach the public and the world the word [aphasia]what it means and how to connect with these people, giving people with aphasia a better chance at life and living on an equal footing,” said Leora.
And she continued, “Aphasia is more common than Parkinson’s disease.” “Not many people knew what Parkinson’s disease was until actor Michael J. Fox got it. Five years ago, no one really knew about ALS until the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. And then everyone knew. Our hope and our goal is to educate the world, And aphasia becomes a buzzword.”
Liora said, “It took these four years to discover who he is again. He had to reinvent himself, and that takes a lot of strength and courage. He is the one who knows that you really have to be brave. Together we will try to teach people through his life experiences.” This is the only way people will understand it.”
To learn more about Coach Eitan, click here.