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Learning to Speak Again – and More

Speech-language pathologists at The University of Kansas HospitalThe title "speech-language pathologist" may conjure images of a caregiver who helps patients overcome talking disorders, such as a stutter or slur.

It's a perception the team of speech-language pathologists at The University of Kansas Hospital encounter on a daily basis.

"When we meet patients, the first thing they usually say is, 'Well, I can talk just fine,'" said Stacy Gray, L/CCC-SLP, who supervises the group.

In reality, the speech-language pathologists at The University of Kansas Hospital and its outpatient clinics evaluate and treat patients with a wide range of disorders, such as swallowing, cognitive communication and motor speech disorders.

A person recovering from a stroke or brain injury, for instance, may struggle to find words, speak haltingly or string together nonsense words.

Patients recovering from cancer or surgery of the neck or head may be diagnosed with trismus, in which they labor to open their mouths wide, swallow or chew.

Children in Pediatrics or the Pediatric ICU might have a cleft palate or nursing difficulties. A patient with a tracheotomy may need to be fitted with a special valve to help them speak.

Treatments for such patients can be as varied and complex as the conditions and the patients themselves. Specialized exercises to strengthen muscles, motor skills and cognition often are key.

Like many caregivers, speech-language pathologists usually work in a collaborative team with physicians, psychologists, social workers and rehabilitation therapists.

Consider Jamie Johnson, L/CCC-SLP, BCS-S, who has worked with the hospital's stroke, concussion and Parkinson's groups, among others, to develop treatment protocols.

One of her favorite responsibilities is collaborating with neurosurgeons during "awake craniotomy surgeries," in which she helps patients express themselves verbally so surgeons know when they're affecting the patient's language center.

"I love my job here," Johnson said. "I'm able to be surrounded by great staff, physicians and patients who teach us more than textbooks at times."