A MAN who almost completely lost the power of speech following a stroke is learning to ‘talk’ again – thanks to a special machine.
Richard Ford, a 42-year-old marathon runner, nearly died on June 9 last year when a brain stem stroke left him paralysed in a wheelchair.
Although lucky to be alive his brain had been starved of oxygen for eight hours and initially his only way of communicating was by blinking and later an occasional grunt.
He was yet another victim of locked-in syndrome, an incredibly frustrating condition where the patient’s intellectual wherewithal survives intact but he or she has virtually no ability to communicate.
But the father-of-three, a police officer, and his devoted wife, Jude, were determined that he would recover as best he can.
And doctors have been amazed at his progress. He has movement in all of his limbs and can stand and walk a few steps with support.
In March he was finally allowed back to the comfort of his home in Holmbridge .
His physical disability is one thing but it is the frustration of not being able to easily join in the ‘nip and tuck’ of everyday conversation with his lively family of Jude and their three young boys, Harry, eight, Oscar, five, and Archie, three, that is perhaps hardest to bear.
When he was at Leeds General Infirmary he was fortunate in being loaned a special £15,000 Eye Gaze machine which specialises in eye recognition and allows the user to ‘talk’.
Once it is positioned at the correct height Richard selects the letter or word that he wants by fixing his gaze on a keyboard for a short period of time, and an artificial voice then ‘speaks’ his messages.
The machine operates much as predictive text and does makes a huge difference to his life and crucially gives him some ‘control’ back.
Jude, 41, said: “Originally we were loaned one from a special learning service in Leeds but once we left hospital we had to give it back.
“It was a massive blow, it was his only way of communication apart from pointing.”
But thanks to West Yorkshire Police’s Benevolent Fund a shiny new one was soon delivered to their home.
Jude, who is also a West Yorkshire Police officer, added: “He can use it to communicate with the children and they are very accepting of him using it in that way.”
Asked how he was feeling, Richard said: “I am extremely focused on getting better and not at all negative.”
The big dream, of course, is that Richard will make a full recovery along the lines of Sheffield stroke patient Kate Allatt, who Jude has met.
Kate is due to give an inspirational speech at a Sportsman’s Dinner in Richard’s honour tomorrow night at the John Smith’s Stadium, for which all 300 tickets have been sold