Sahmad Nakumbe - A ‘thriller’ of a recovery
When a stroke left Sahmad Nakumbe unable to communicate, therapists helped him find his voice.
Sahmad shares his story as part of a series on stroke rehabilitation to highlight the American Stroke Association’s new Life After Stroke Guide (download it directly by clicking here), part of the Together to End Stroke initiative, sponsored nationally by Encompass Health.
At various points in Sahmad Nakumbe’s therapy, he could be heard belting out the lyrics to Michael Jackson’s classic, “Thriller.”
Though the words to his favorite musician’s songs seemed to come easily to him, communication was another story. After a severe stroke, Sahmad had trouble even saying his own name. When he arrived at the hospital in Westerville, Ohio, his No. 1 goal was to regain his ability to communicate, something the 26 year old had never had problems with.
His now-wife Taylor, described Sahmad as a go-getter. He worked a full-time job, and once he was home, he worked on his marketing business, designing websites and logos. Sahmad, Taylor added, never slowed down; that is until May 19. While on a business trip hundreds of miles from home, he suffered a stroke.
“Sahmad woke up that morning and his arm was tingling; he thought he had slept on it funny,” Taylor recalled. “He stepped out (of a meeting) because he wasn’t feeling so great, and when his co-workers came to check on him, they found that he was unable to speak and couldn’t remember his password to access his phone.”
Sahmad was rushed to the hospital, and Taylor and her mother quickly boarded a plane to be by his side.
Due to swelling in his brain, Sahmad’s doctors had to perform a craniectomy. Following his surgery and recovery, Sahmad was transferred to Mount Carmel Rehabilitation Hospital, in partnership with Encompass Health, to begin his six-week journey to recovery. With communication a primary goal, Sahmad and Taylor were eager to begin working with speech-language pathologist Nicole Link. They quickly warmed to Nicole and her approach. The swelling in his brain caused aphasia, leaving Sahmad unable to communicate. However, Nicole was able to tap into his love of music, particularly Michael Jackson, to treat the condition and help him talk again.
“On his first day of speech therapy, he was singing Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller,’” Taylor said laughing. “Michael Jackson was his favorite, and he knew every word! He couldn’t talk, but he knew every part of ‘Thriller’.”
It wasn’t just his love of the King of Pop that got him talking again, though. Nicole said it took intensive speech therapy, and his devotion to Taylor didn’t hurt, either, in his drive to communicate again.
“Through intensive speech therapy, profound motivation, self-efficacy, positivity and tremendous support from his unwavering significant other, Sahmad left our hospital able to communicate his basic wants and needs, but more importantly, his love for Taylor,” Nicole said. “He is the reason we come to work every day. To help people when they are vulnerable and experiencing the most challenging of situations, and we can help them flourish.”
Three months after his stroke and discharge from Mount Carmel, Sahmad was able to say some of his most important words to date – his wedding vows. The two were married Aug. 25.
“I knew right away that he was the one. We agreed on everything, and the more I got to know him, I knew that God had sent me him at the perfect time. I was very particular about what I wanted in a husband, and Sahmad met every criteria I had.”
Though Sahmad’s stroke was one of the toughest situations the couple ever endured, they said it has definitely made them stronger. Sahmad has slowed down some with his busy work schedule to enjoy time with his new wife, but his electric personality hasn’t changed – something doctors weren’t sure about after his stroke.
“After the stroke, doctors said he might not remember us, think or walk again,” Taylor said. “He had tubes down his throat when we first saw him. But when Sahmad began rehabilitation, everyone was impressed with his progress. And he maintained his personality through his facial expressions, and everyone loved him. He inspired everyone. He was 100 percent there in his brain; he just couldn’t communicate with his words.”
Sahmad’s communication skills continue to improve, and it’s stories like his that Kirstie Hamer, one of his occupational therapists, said make her job so rewarding.
“Stories like Taylor and Sahmad’s are why we come to work each day,” she said. “Sahmad’s motivation and drive, in combination with our team’s expertise in neurorehabilitation, resulted in him walking out of our hospital safely and more able to fully live his life. We are so proud of Sahmad and his continued success.”
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