‘I choose blessing’

Out of silence, stroke victim reclaims speech

By George P. Matysek, Jr., '94  |  Photo by Nick Alexopulos, '03

For more than a year, Kathy Klein was silent.

After a January 2012 stroke robbed the mother of three of the ability to form words, the 53-year-old graphic designer was blocked from communicating with the world around her. Her inner thoughts and ideas were as alive as ever, but they were locked inside her.

“I cried and I cried and I cried,” remembered the Lutherville, Md., resident, speaking in halting phrases and consciously thinking about where to place her tongue to form words that only months ago would have been impossible. “I cried because I didn’t know what to do.”

Klein credits the intensive speech-language therapy she underwent at the Belvedere Square branch of the Loyola Clinical Centers in Baltimore with helping to restore her speech. Working with speech-pathology graduate students over three semesters, she reclaimed the ability to express herself and has taken the first steps toward resuming her career.

It hasn’t been easy, but Klein has chosen to live what she calls a life of blessing in the face of incredible adversity.

Determined Woman

Klein arrived at Loyola after undergoing rehabilitation at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson and Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore. Andrea Atticks, ’98, adult neurogenic coordinator at the Loyola Clinical Centers, recalled Klein’s first day as an emotional one marked by a sense of fierce determination.

“I asked her what her goals were,” Atticks said. “She said she wanted to get back to her old self. She wanted to be that person again.”

Klein’s stroke, which affected the left side of her brain and the right side of her body, left her with disorders known as aphasia and apraxia.

“Aphasia involves difficulty with understanding spoken and written language and then also expressing language,” Atticks said. “Apraxia is the actual speech production—the motor planning that’s involved in forming those words.”

At Loyola, Klein’s therapy consisted of relearning the physical aspects of speech by watching graduate students form sounds and then imitating them. Slowly and painstakingly, as language returned, she endlessly repeated vocabulary words to improve her intelligibility.

She spent many hours using sophisticated software such as “Word-Q,” assistive technology that predicts which words Klein might use when typing documents and emails. She also relied on computer applications that offer speech sounds on cue.

Jordan Differding, a speech-language pathology student from Minnesota who worked with Klein for four months in 2013, remembers his first client as one of the most motivated, hardworking people he’s ever met. Differding helped Klein prepare a short speech she delivered for the 10th anniversary of the Loyola Clinical Centers in September.

“It was a proud moment to be next to someone who showed so much progress and who was willing to be an advocate for people who had strokes and are suffering from aphasia,” said Differding, who has also worked with the elderly at a local senior center, a 2-year-old child with Down Syndrome, and a teen with articulation difficulties.

Guests at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Loyola Clinical Centers congratulate Klein after her remarks.

Guests at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Loyola Clinical Centers congratulate Klein after her remarks.

Atticks called Klein’s address one of the most eloquent she’s ever heard.

“Getting up there in front of a crowd of strangers is challenging regardless of your story,” Atticks said, “but to do it when speech is one of your primary challenges is most remarkable. She brought the house down.”

Real Life

Last year, the Loyola Clinical Centers served more than 3,500 clients on and off site in more than 12,200 sessions focused on audiology, education, psychological, and speech-language services.

The centers operate at Belvedere Square, the Loyola-Notre Dame Library, and the Graduate Center-Columbia Campus. Fifty-four off-site locations include elementary schools in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, senior centers, and Baltimore City Head Start programs. There are currently 52 graduate students in the program.

Differding said the program’s strength is that students are “thrown right into real-life situations.”

“I have class on Monday, but Tuesday through Friday, I’m doing hands-on work with clients,” he said.

In working with Klein, Differding sent her emails at unannounced times pretending to be a customer inquiring about her graphic artist services. It was a way for her to practice her written communication skills as she would with real clients. The practice paid off. Klein is slowly rebuilding her customer list and is now providing design services for four clients.

Klein’s husband, Steve, said he doesn’t know where his family would be without support from Loyola Clinical Services. He is grateful that Loyola’s fee is based on a sliding scale, making it affordable to many people in the community.

“Our income has obviously been adversely affected by the stroke,” he said, “and this is all post-insurance. They’ve made it so ridiculously easy to afford.”


Kathy Klein recently met an elderly woman who suffered a stroke similar to what she went through. She is encouraging her not to lose hope and to commit to putting in the work to reclaim her life.

“I told her, ‘I will go to class with you,’” Klein said. “I told her, ‘you’ve got to work in that class.’”

Klein said she wants to give back in appreciation for what she has received. She is inspired by a book a friend gave her that reminded her of the importance of living life to the fullest.

“I choose health,” Klein said. “I choose life. I choose blessing. I choose prosperity, peace, and joy. Those are my choices. So, that’s what I believe.”

Read more about how Loyola’s Bright Minds, Bold Hearts campaign will support the Loyola Clinical Centers.

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