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Improving life through better speech and memory

Danilee and Brent have developed a friendship in the course of working on Brent’s speech and memory.

Danilee Pudwell, a speech language pathologist at Monument Health, and Brent Steinbach have fun together. They laugh and joke, and converse like old friends. Some of this chemistry stems from the positive attitude and personality that they each exude, but undoubtedly, some also comes from the fact that Danilee helped Brent regain his communication skills.

Brent has always been fit and active — at age 60 he’s running around with five grandchildren, but he’s also an avid powerlifter. In 2018 he began experiencing uncontrollable seizures. When medication proved unhelpful, his doctors determined that the only way to resolve the problem was through surgery.

To stop Brent’s seizures, surgeons removed a small part of his temporal lobe, as well as the hippocampus and amygdala — areas connected to memory, learning new things, and emotional response. “After surgery, they sent me to speech therapy and to work on my memory. My speech was slurred and my cognitive skills were lacking. And that’s where I met Danilee,” Brent said.

“I went in knowing that these are the areas that he was having difficulty,” Danilee said, describing her initial approach with Brent. “Those are the areas that I have experience with — cognitive communication, whether it’s memory, processing, attention, those types of things.”

Initially, one of Brent’s biggest concerns was short term memory, so a large portion of his therapy targeted short term memory skills. They implemented a number of different strategies, determining what was most effective for Brent. “We developed ways that he could, day by day, recall significant events and more successfully form memories of the things he was doing, and he’s still using those strategies today,” Danilee said.

Thanks to his surgery, Brent’s seizures have become increasingly rare — it’s been a year since his last one — and he’s as active as ever, even competing in the USA Powerlifting Sioux Empire Open in November 2020. With hard work, and Danilee’s help, Brent has made incredible improvements, and is able to communicate much more clearly.

Brent credits much of his improvement to Danilee’s help. He admits, “I didn’t even know what a speech therapist did until I was getting the benefits from it.” Danilee is quick to point out, however, that without Brent’s hard work and willingness to engage in the therapy, he wouldn’t have experienced the positive results. In the course of his treatment the two developed a friendship that’s obvious to anyone that sees them interact.

“I would say we have a great relationship. He made improvements by his dedication, his motivation and determination to get better. He inspired me to be a better therapist just because he was so uplifting,” Danilee said of working with Brent. “He made me not only want to help him more, but also to help other people that may not have his positive outlook yet.”

May is Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM), and there’s no better time to celebrate Brent’s accomplishments and Danilee’s expertise. BHSM is a time to raise awareness about communication disorders and the options that are available to improve the quality of life for those who experience problems speaking or hearing. If you enjoyed getting to know Brent and Danilee, please check out their video interview as well.

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