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Commencement speech is milestone for SLP patient (and professional)

June 05, 2014

When Judith Ludwig-Keller spoke to the graduating class of Speech Language Pathologists at the University of Colorado Boulder this spring, she shared with students not only her experience as a Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) for more than 30 years, but also her experience as an SLP patient for the last year. She was so inspirational, she was asked to return to campus May 9 to speak at CU’s commencement ceremonies.

Graduation speech 5-9-14

Keller speaking at CU’s graduation ceremony.

This was a significant milestone for a woman whose traumatic brain injury (TBI) had significantly reduced her ability to communicate and hear. Ludwig-Keller had been hiking in the foothills of the Sandia Mountains in Albuquerque with a friend April 28, 2013. When the two rested in the shade of a steep slope, a rock fell, striking her on the right side of her head and leaving her in a coma for a week.

“The insurance company’s plan for me was to place me in a nursing home. An advocate from Craig Hospital helped my husband talk to the insurance company in Albuquerque about how the program at Craig Hospital would be appropriate for me,” she says.

In May 2013, she was flown to Craig Hospital, where the SLPs were able to help Ludwig-Keller move past a problem she’d suffered since coming out of the coma. Perseveration, the repetition of a word, phrase or gesture, is a common frustration for TBI patients. She’d been stuck on three topics—work, a son and a grandson.

She’d spent most of her career as an SLP in Albuquerque middle and high schools. Now, she needed help from other SLPs to cope with the results of her injuries.

“My self-esteem was so low; I didn’t feel like a part of the human race. I was embarrassed by how I looked and sounded, and I was terrified I wouldn’t get much better and be able to enjoy life like I had in the past,” she says.

But the SLPs at Craig Hospital understood what she was going through and had faith in Ludwig-Keller’s ability to recover. After helping her move past the topics she’d been stuck on, they worked on improving her memory, comprehension and expression.

“Their expertise about the impact of brain injury on comprehension and communication was extensive, and most meaningful to me was how the SLPs got to know and care about me as a person. Each time they acknowledged my effort and improvement, even in small increments, I felt more hope and was determined to keep working.”

Judy with Kathy Hardin 5-9-14

Judy Keller (left) with Kathy Hardin, Assistant Clinical Professor, Certified Brain Injury Specialist Trainer, CU-Boulder.

And keep working she did. Both at the CU-Boulder Speech and Hearing Clinic and as an outpatient at Craig Hospital. Just a month after she finished therapy, she was a panelist at CU, which led to her other speaking engagements at the university.

“I talked about how valuable the SLP profession is … and how proud I am of my profession because of all the meaningful care and effective, thorough support I have received,” she says.

Ludwig-Keller explains that as a TBI patient, she saw different skills compared to her experience in the educational realm. What was the same, she says, was the importance of treating each person in a way that made them feel they mattered and gave them hope for the future.

Ludwig-Keller has lost some of her self-consciousness and once again enjoys hiking, listening to music, getting together with family and friends, reading and exploring. She’s also eager to return to the profession that has improved so many lives—including her own.

“I am so grateful for Craig Hospital,” she says.