Bruce Willis was diagnosed with aphasia; Youngstown’s Tom Dundics talks about his own journey

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — Actor Bruce Willis has been diagnosed with aphasia, but what is it and how does it affect the brain? Today we learned about it from a person who has it and from a person who studies it.

Youngstown’s Tom Dundics, founder of Gray Matter Leather, works on bags, belts and other leather goods in his basement. Ten years ago, at the age of 40, he had a stroke and a blood clot affected the side of his brain.

“Ellie looked at me when I walked in, and I was like [moves glasses sideways on his head]said Dundics.

Dundics has a picture on his phone of the damage to his brain. This led to aphasia.

“Ten years ago, I couldn’t speak. The dog, I can’t say “Coco”. I can’t do anything,” Dundics said.

Speech therapy helped. He still can’t read and speak can be difficult as Dundics tries to remember a word.

Dundics was a top-notch engineer but lost his job. Now he focuses on leather work. He even made his own hat.

“It’s difficult every day. One day is good, the next day is not good,” Dundics said.

Jeanette Benigas is a university professor in this field at Indiana University in South Bend. She welcomes more understanding about aphasia.

“They just have trouble understanding or sticking out the language. It’s not a reflection of intelligence,” Benigas said.

Benigas follows Willis’ diagnosis. She is a speech therapist and says it is important to work with people to help them learn to find new words if they cannot find the word they want to access or to use another form of communication. She also thinks it’s important to know that people with aphasia can still participate in life.

“Because they’re still in there. They always know what’s going on, they always understand. They just have problems with the language,” Benigas said.

Benigas thinks Willis might have different aphasia than traditional aphasia and expects more information to come out.

She said people gain five, 10, 15 years after the injury that caused the aphasia, and it all depends on how much work they put into rehabilitation.

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