GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A retired pastor in Grand Rapids is recovering from aphasia, the same condition famous actor Bruce Willis was diagnosed with last week.

“Thankfully, between the Lord, my family, Mary Free Bed, we’re making it,” Glenn Teal said. “They saved my sanity.”

Teal underwent surgery earlier this year after he experienced a brain bleed in December. Following the surgery, he explained that he wasn’t able to tell time and could hardly read.

“It was a very traumatic and scary time. One of the surgery team members could see that I was struggling and looked at me and said ‘we’re going to get you into Mary Free Bed because they can help you’,” he said.

Teal was later diagnosed with Broca’s aphasia, or mild expressive aphasia.

Claire Antvelink, a speech language pathologist at Mary Free Bed, says people with this particular type of aphasia can understand what people are saying but they are unable to present thoughts or speech clearly. It is difficult to get words out and people tend to omit words.

“The hardest word is the word go. Yet, he could say words that had four syllables in them but couldn’t say the word ‘go’,” his wife, Nancy Teal, said. “The really short words don’t give you as many clues, so those are sometimes the harder words, and especially letters that have complicated or unique formations like a ‘g’ with the closed loop at the bottom.”

Glenn Teal spent nine days in therapy at Mary Free Bed and has since been doing outpatient therapy twice a week. He also practices at home by reading Dr. Seus books, going over vocabulary and reading his Bible.

It has been difficult to cope with having aphasia, but he deals with it the best way he knows how.

“Aphasia is scary because you feel a loss of control. You can see and understand, but you can’t fully communicate,” he said. “In order not to panic and feel a sense of peace and inner calm, for me, my faith in the Lord has been a huge part.”

According to therapists, aphasia is caused by damage to the brain, which can happen if someone has a stroke or brain injury. It can also come on gradually from a slow-growing brain tumor or a disease that causes progressive, permanent damage.

Antvelink has even seen patients diagnosed with aphasia after experiencing COVID-19, though it affects each individual differently.

“We can have someone having a lot of difficulties getting one word out or we can have someone at a higher level having difficulty in conversation,” she said. “That’s life altering for people. It’s also life-altering for families.”

Barb Sterk is recovering from a stroke on the left side of her brain. She has been going to Mary Free Bed for therapy. She has also experienced difficulties similar to Glenn Teal as she was diagnosed with Broca’s aphasia.

“It’s very hard and its hard to talk and it’s very frustrating,” she said. “I can’t think of the words.”

Her therapist is working with her reading skills and believes Sterk has made notable progress.

Aphasia isn’t a deadly condition. Speech therapy is the most common treatment, though there are a number of factors that determine how long a person may experience the condition.

“It does depend on the severity level at the start and it depends on the injury the individual sustained, so there’s a lot of different factors that go into the prognosis and the recovery time,” Antvelink said.

According to the Mayor Clinic, if you are experiencing the following symptoms, you should see a doctor:

  • Speak in short or incomplete sentences
  • Speak in sentences that don’t make sense
  • Substitute one word for another or one sound for another
  • Speak unrecognizable words
  • Not understand other people’s conversation
  • Write sentences that don’t make sense