Aphasia affects 40% of stroke survivors, but there’s a huge lack of public understanding about the speech and communication disorder. We’ve created a new feature-length documentary, ‘When the Words Away Went’, to try to change this. The film follows the lives of three stroke survivors with aphasia on their journey to find their voice and rebuild their lives.
Julie Foster, 36, from Tyne and Wear, is one of the stroke survivors who featured in the documentary with her family.
Following a stroke in 2013, Julie had a second stroke in November 2015. It took away her ability to speak, and at 21 weeks pregnant, she sadly also lost her baby.
At the time, Julie was in and out of consciousness and doctors suspected that she may not survive.
Tragically, Julie was told that her pregnancy may have caused the stroke as her blood was thickening and her hormone levels were so high. Due to her risk of another stroke that could be fatal, Julie was left with no choice but to terminate her pregnancy.
“It was devastating and to make it worse, Stephen had to make the decision as I couldn’t communicate at all,” says Julie. ”I remember one of the nurses visiting us and saying, ’You’re a fighter Julie and you have to carry on fighting for your kids’. I knew I had to carry on for the three of them.”
Julie was not able to speak for months, unable to even say her children’s names. With a lot of hard work, intensive speech and language therapy and Stroke Association support, Julie’s speech has improved immensely. But she still experiences daily challenges with her speech and reading.
“I get frustrated with not being able to find my words,” says Julie. “My spelling and writing is also affected. I go to shops and they rush you. I’ve even been told when I get on buses that I’ve been drinking.
“I can’t read my kids bedtime stories and I used to love reading – it’s just so much information.
“After my stroke I was encouraged to attend a Stroke Association group by my Stroke Support Coordinator. This was a brave thing to do, as I wasn’t leaving the house to take part in everyday activities. After attending a few times, I really got into it – talking with other stroke survivors and their carers. I now run the group alongside my volunteers.”
Julie says helping other stroke survivors has become her goal in life. She is particularly passionate about teaching younger generations about stroke and aphasia – a journey that the filmmakers were keen to follow.
“I am a positive person and I want to help people with aphasia as much as possible,” she says. “I really believe that kids in school need to be taught more about stroke and aphasia. I agreed to prepare and give a talk about my stroke to a small group of pupils at the local primary school.”
Though the thought of opening up her life to film cameras was daunting, Julie was determined to take this step.
“It was a privilege to be involved because I have always wanted to raise awareness of aphasia following my own experience,” Julie says. “During my recovery, I was presented with all sorts of barriers in terms of people’s understanding of my condition, and their misconceptions. I felt it was about time for people to be made more aware of the condition.
“In the lead up to the interviews and filming, I was very nervous – I didn’t know if my communication challenges would allow me to do it. On the day of the filming, I felt excited, and my nerves had disappeared.”
And after the success of her first school talk, which features in the documentary, and the overwhelmingly positive public reaction to ‘When the Words Away Went’, Julie is fuelled with newfound confidence to take her message further.
“The school talk went really well, and the children were great,” she says. ”I have already been approached by another school to give another speech. I am thrilled, and happy to do so.
“I want the documentary to help people with aphasia know they are not alone. We are all in this together and there is support out there. I hope it will inspire them to not give up and know things can improve over time with hard work and determination.”
Find out more
Watch our documentary, featuring Julie, now: ‘When the Words Away Went’
If you or someone you know needs our support, contact our Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100. Or find information and resources on our aphasia and communication support pages.
Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the summer 2023 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.