Program uses music to help stroke survivors find their voice

The National Stroke Foundation is honoring Cal State East Bay in Hayward for its innovative and creative approach using music to help stroke survivors and others who've lost their ability to communicate.

At the school's speech clinic, grad students are helping survivors of stroke, tumor or a brain injury to speak again.

They suffer from Aphasia, the loss of communication skills due to their condition.

"A journey and slowly getting better," Kimberly Flores, who's recovering from a stroke she suffered eight years ago while attending college. She's among the two dozen patients here at the clinic.
"I used to love singing, but all those words wiped out, so I had to learn again. It's very hard getting the words out," said Dorene Lopez.

The youngest patient is 26 years old; the oldest, 83. They are all trying to regain the life they once had.

"Aphasia can be like an identity theft because you really lose your ability to tell your story," said Ellen Bernstein-Ellis, the director of the Aphasia Treatment Program. So Bernstein-Ellis formed the Aphasia Tones Choir in 2009

Graduate students aspiring to be speech pathologists teach the patients to learn communication through group participation.

David Edmonds says he couldn't talk or walk after his stroke. But being in this choir -- the rhythm and the repetition in singing and playing an instrument -- helped him put thoughts to words and more.

"I can drive. I jog too. Three miles," said Edmonds.

These survivors say the choir restored their confidence and sense of community.

"I just love it. It gives me thought process in my brain to learning," said Lopez.

"Our ultimate goal is to be able to participate fully in life," said Bernstein-Ellis.

She says this program has inspired six other Aphasia choirs around the country.