Kevin Mills is unstoppable. He didn’t let his traumatic brain injury (TBI) in 2012, nor his recent stroke and resulting aphasia, defeat him. Kevin Mills is much more than just a man defined by his past injuries. He is much more than a man who lives with aphasia, a language disorder that impacts a person’s ability to access, use, and/or understand language.
While aphasia might be one of the first noticeable qualities about Kevin when he speaks, it should be the last thing that defines him. What might better define him than his aphasia? Perhaps it would be his attraction to beautiful design, whether in his stylish round-framed glasses or in his smoothly flowing designer pens (that he’ll let you try out if he likes you enough!). Or maybe it would be his Tommy Bahama shirt collection, his affinity for feline friends (especially his two cats Callie and Sweet Sammy Bauer), or his appreciation of delicious sashimi. Or better yet, maybe it would be his infectious smile and his desire to connect with people. Yes, this is Kevin: a people-connecting, people-loving, people-person. He plays 9-holes with strangers who transform into new friends by the last put. He learned to say key phrases in several different languages so he could more easily connect with his international clients. These qualities are much more central to who Kevin Mills is than his aphasia.
That being said, aphasia is an ever-present language filter through which Kevin must speak and listen. He has spent countless hours in speech therapy and in his own practice working to remove this filter so that other aspects of him can shine through more easily. Kevin has a type of aphasia called Conduction Aphasia. This means that even though he has a hard time thinking of the right word and some difficulty with reading and writing, he is able to speak in long sentences and can understand most of what people say. As you will notice in his interview responses below, Kevin also has difficulty with grammar, sentence completeness/cohesion, and speech fluidity. Despite these language challenges, Kevin provides unique insight into a person’s experience living with aphasia, straight from the source, and without outsider interpretation or speculation.
Q&A with Kevin Mills
Kristen: What is your experience living with aphasia?
Kevin: Well, when…after my stroke, I wasn’t able to speak. And I think you folks have helped me to understand and learn tools to be able to continue improve my speaking…speech. So, I like Craig. I think Craig is a beautiful place!
Kristen: Well we like you! So you’ve learned a lot of tools. What is it like using those tools in the real world with people who don’t know about aphasia?
Kevin: Well I think that peoples that have been around me, um, I think they understand that something has happened to me with this stroke. But a lot of people think that I’m doing very well and not, um…sounds like I don’t have a problem.
Kristen: So some people see you and assume you’re perfectly fine.
Kevin: As far as me commuting (communicating) with those folks, again the tools that you have taught me how to, um, you know take my time and, uh, as the word we talk about, you know, laser…laser-like. Take my time to slow…to think what I want to say before I talk. And someone that has had any issues just understands that I’m just a little slower in my speech and think…thinking.
Kristen: I see, I understand. Now, on the opposite side of things, rather than when people are supportive or when you feel successful, what are your frustrations with aphasia?
Kevin: My frustration is when I stimble…stumble in my wording. When I mix words up. I either don’t pronunciate them or to get confused. Mostly it’s helpful…or mo- mostly the problem is when I’m tireder. Usually in the evening. I’m not as sharp with my responses and comments back to folks.
Kristen: That has to be really hard.
Kevin: I just lose a little bit of my communication with other folks when I get upset like that.
Kristen: What does that feel like?
Kevin: Frustration is the best word. Yeah, it’s very frustrating to get mixed up and not to be able to just say what I want to say!
Kristen: Yeah, absolutely.
Kevin: I don’t tell as good je-jer-jokes as I used to!
Kristen: I still like the jokes you tell! So, my next question has to do with how you handle your frustration. Understandably, aphasia may make you feel down. Make you feel frustrated all the time, and I don’t see that happening to you at all. You seem happy. So I’m wondering how you keep your spirits upbeat and positive even though you get frustrated sometimes.
Kevin: Well, Rebekah (my wife) helps a lot. She’ll tell the tools to slow down, you know, take your time. She does the laser like. Take my time. So, um, she helps. She also gets a little weary at times, you know, when I’m not as speaking as well as I can.
Kristen: It’s hard on her too.
Kevin: It takes on her too.
Kristen: What would you want the general public to know about aphasia?
Kevin: I think other people that they have been around me and what happened, they’re starting to understand. And other people…I think a lot of people that I’ve never thought about, a lot of people have strokes.
Kristen: That strokes are more common than what you might realize.
Kevin: Yeah, I never thought too much about it. My father had a stroke, and he died from it. The most people that I have been around stroke have been very not really about that you can survive from it…that you can improve. So I think it’s been positive to myself and to other people that you can recovery from a stroke. So, that’s what I’m trying!
Kevin: You know, will I ever been the same as I was before? You know…as much as I can be. But I think it’s probably the life-long situation. And I just hope not to have another stroke in my future. That’s a little scary…scary to think that that would happen again. But from that point, you know, just like the issues I have had. My broken neck and stuff and traumatic brain injury…I’ve learned to live with the issues I’m given.
Kristen: You have a lot of wise words, Kevin.
Kevin: Wise words! (Laughter) Experience!
About the Author
Kristen Mascareñas is the coordinator for Craig’s exciting new aphasia program called the C.H.A.T Program (Craig Hospital Aphasia Therapy Program). Kristen has called Craig home for the past five years where she passionately helps people with language and other cognitive-communication disorders. When not at work, this Colorado native likes road trips to Breckenridge with her boyfriend, spending time with her family (6 younger siblings!), and playing her flute in her local concert band. For more details about the C.H.A.T. Program, please call Kristen at 303-789-8126.