Barbara and Michael Schacker’s Story:
Stephen Larsen, PhD, LMHC (NY), BCN, Barbara + Michael Schacker, and Victor Zelek, PhD
Stroke, according to the CDC and the American Heart Association, is the third leading cause of death in the United states. Strokes happen about every 45 seconds, and six and a half million Americans are currently living with only part of their brain functioning due to stroke. The causes, and the varieties, of stroke are legion, but the only feature on which medical authorities agree, is that they are generally caused by a malfunction of the cardiovascular system in relation to the brain.
Our brains consume about a quarter of the entire energy of the human body, usually delivered in the form of glucose and oxygen, by the circulatory system. The web of neurons, and the glial matrix in which they are embedded, are as exquisitely delicate as they are highly functional. Even small and brief failures of the delivery system, called ischemias, can lead to cognitive impairments that may be permanent; while larger blood clots that deny oxygen and nutrients to key areas of the brain lead to massive and major debilities: loss of language, memory, motor functioning, massive paralysis. Even more serious are aneurisms, bleeds that may affect whole brain regions or entire hemispheres, or, when they shut down deeper areas that control vital functions, simply cause death.
The stroke that is the major subject of this article was extremely massive, enough to be life threatening, and take out most of Michael Schacker’s left hemisphere, including Broca’s area, which generates speech, and much of the left motor cortex, leading to paralysis of his right hand and leg. With the permission of Barbara Dean Schacker, Michael’s wife, I have used the title of her website: “Stroke Family,” because when a loved person is “stroked,” the whole family also is “stroked,” or traumatized. Barbara is also a co-author for this article, and we begin with her narrative of how she developed the method called The Sensory Trigger that she evolved to help her own father with his stroke many years ago. (So as well as Michael’s dramatic recovery, this article brings in the “back-story” of a remarkable, loving and resourceful spouse.) My other collaborator on this Chapter is Dr. Victor Zelek, the neuropsychologist at The Northeast Center for Special Care, who first brain-mapped Michael, and saw to his care during his year and a half at this excellent and ground-breaking facility for care of the brain injured.
In 2010, Dr. Zelek and I presented Michael’s case at the ISNR, the International Society for Neurofeedback and research at their annual conference in Denver, along with the brainmaps and clinical data accompanying this article. The room was packed with neuroscience professionals, including Norman Doidge, author of The Brain that Changes Itself, and I was able to have a really interesting discussion with both Dr. Doidge and Harvard’s Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, one of the founding researchers of the (once controversial, now widely accepted, theory of“neural plasticity,” about how neurofeedback has a special contribution to make to the restoration of brains damaged by TBI’s of any kind . Michael’s case gripped the audience because of the extent of his intellectual and creative prowess before the stroke: Writer, composer, musician, political activist. With a little help from his friends (and some neurofeedback) Michael Schacker may win his way back to the richly brilliant cognition he had with a whole brain instead of half. Before we turn to Michael’s breathtaking recovery, let us look to the backstory.
1) Prisoner of Silence
That day, I had no idea that my life was about to change forever. I remember standing in left field playing softball during recess on a beautiful spring day in Nebraska when my teacher suddenly appeared and motioned me off the field. “You have permission to leave school immediately”, she said gravely. “Your sister is waiting for you in her car.” Climbing into the car, I immediately knew something terrible had happened. My sister said, her voice trembling, “Daddy has had a stroke. They don’t know if he will live. He is in the hospital with Mom.”
When we arrived at the hospital in Lincoln, my sister and I rushed to the entrance. At the door, I was asked, “How old are you?” “I am 13.” I replied. The nuns declared, “She is under age, she can’t come in. You have to be 15 to enter the hospital. That is the rule.” My sister took me back to the car to wait while she rushed inside. It was midday. I waited and waited, but no one came for me. I moved into the back seat to lie down. It was late at night about 12 hours later, when my sister returned to find me hysterically whimpering in a fetal position—curled up in the back seat. She had finally gained permission to bring me in.
I remember walking down the clean, echoing halls to my father’s room to see him in a coma. My mother seemed to be in a trance, until we went to the women’s room where she broke down and sobbed, “What will I do without him?” All the things my father was to me, all the things he had done with me–flooded into my mind. The times he let me drive sitting on his lap around our plowed wheat field even though I was only 6 years old. Because of this early training, I already knew how to drive, even though I was only 13. The time there was a tornado that raged right over our house, taking the chimney and a beloved weeping willow tree while we huddled together in the basement, his strong hand holding mine and reassuring me to “have faith–all would be well”. Teaching me to hammer and saw so I could build a tree house—all by myself. This kind, intelligent, affectionate father, a robust 48 years old, now lay crushed by a massive stroke that had come out of nowhere. It didn’t seem possible; it was completely unreal.
Coming out of the coma, he was in the hospital 3 months before returning home to be taken care of by my mother. We were told he would never walk or talk again. He didn’t understand anything we said and was totally silent. The neurologist told us he had “global aphasia”. As a young woman I liked books and wanted to know the answers to my questions, so I looked this up in the Encyclopedia Britannica—it said that this condition was “incurable”. Yet something just didn’t fit, even though I couldn’t explain my discomfort at the time. I remember mother telling me “Barbara, you have to just accept it. He will never talk again.” But something in me didn’t believe her, didn’t believe the speech therapists, and didn’t believe the Mayo Clinic that declared him “untreatable”.
About a year later, something was wrong with the car and he couldn’t tell us what it was although he knew what was broken. He took a pencil and piece of paper and with his left hand (his right hand was paralyzed by the stroke) drew a complete diagram of the car engine with one area circled. Everyone was amazed he could do this. Obviously he had all his memory, but he just couldn’t talk! I took the piece of paper with this drawing to the mechanic who confirmed that it was, indeed, the clutch plate—the part that he had repaired. The fact that he could draw this diagram struck me, and I thought, “There is a way I can help him. There must be some way he can talk again.” Although I didn’t know it at the time, this was the beginning of a whole life’s journey and the discovery of what I would later call, The Sensory Trigger Method.
Years later, at 21, I was working in the Lincoln Public Library as Head of the Printing Department. I had a young daughter, Jennifer, who at age two was learning to talk. I became fascinated with the work of Maria Montessori. Montessori, a French woman, was one of the first women to receive a medical degree. She was to become famous for discovering a way to teach brain-damaged children in the asylum how to talk, read and write using the sense of touch. Her theory that children can be guided to master their senses, even with learning disabilities and brain damage—that they could master fine motor coordination and develop abilities that may at first not be apparent, or may be lacking in their development, but are the very basis and foundation of adult intellectual and verbal abilities—this made a deep impression. Hungrily, I went on to devour books on the evolution of language and the history of writing. There was something more there than just wanting to know how to help my two year old express her self!
Then one day, while I was clearing off my desk, it suddenly came to me–of course! The drawing that my father had made…it must have to do with that. He could communicate with pictures–pictograms…like the cave drawings at Lascaux, France. The recovery of language could follow an evolutionary pattern. He could communicate with pictures—that is the starting point! Being an artist, I quickly took card stock and cut it up into small cards and drew pictures on each one. “Vernon”—a picture of my father—“point to”—a hand pointing—“cup”—a picture of a cup. I made one for myself and other objects: a door, a chair, a hammer, and an apple. The opinion of the speech therapist who had had asked my father to “Point to the cup” and then diagnosed him “untreatable” because he couldn’t do that–suddenly became unimportant—but this new way I had discovered became my new challenge.
Armed with my new set of cards and a few objects, I duplicated the speech therapist’s test—only this time it would be non-verbal—we would be communicating with pictures—and with touch! I laid the cards down in sequence on the desk before my father. “Vernon”—“point to”—“cup”. Avoiding body cues, I didn’t give it away by looking at the cup. I waited. Silently, I placed my finger down to touch each card in sequence. I showed him how to do the same with the index finger of this left hand. He followed my demonstration touching each one in sequence, left to right. Then his eyes lit up and he pointed to the cup! And even though when I asked him to point to the door, or the chair he looked at me blankly, when I used the cards, he understood and could answer by pointing to the correct object from the group of objects that were on the table or in the room.
I then launched into intensive research. I had the library at my disposal and could access research that was unavailable even to college grads, only reading the curricula, but not the most recent studies. Yet the real revelation came when by chance I picked up a Psychology Today magazine on my break at the library. In it was an article about the “split brain operation” and the findings of Michael Gazzaniga, Norman Geshwin, and Roger Sperry about the dominant speech center and the passive speech center. They had found a direct developmental and neurological link between the dominant hand and the dominant speech center.
When I wrote to Dr. Michael Gazzaniga, and told him I had invented a picture language for global aphasia, he was so intrigued he invited me to to visit him, where he was researching at the University of New York at Stonybrook. There, I might consider a degree in the new field of neurolinguistic psychology and find out more about his research. I traveled to New York City and had lunch with him. We had a very exciting conversation. He took me back to his office at the school and introduced me to Norman Geshwin and Roger Sperry. After a few months, however, I decided that I didn’t want to be a clinician to do pure research. Rather, I wanted to find a way to apply the knowledge and make a system that could directly help stroke patients communicate and maybe even recover their speech.
Further clinical studies showed the right hemisphere could only say 3 or perhaps 4 words in sequence. It appeared there was a limit to sequential memory in the right hemisphere. It is still generally believed that due to the specialization of the adult brain, the right hemisphere speech center is incapable of initiating fluid speech. This was before the current concept of “brain plasticity”—the ability of the brain to change and learn even in an “aged brain”. No one considered that the reason why the right hemisphere couldn’t talk after brain injury was not because of some innate characteristic, but because it had not learned to be the active talker.
A few years later, studies revealed that we talk with both sides of our brains as young children, before the brain specializes. More studies came out that indicated that the right hemisphere could learn to talk. As I continued to research, I found a study that showed that aphasia is rare in Asian populations. Because their writing is pictographic, their brain symmetry develops differently and active speech is probably stored on both hemispheres. It has also been found that bilingual people who have a stroke or brain injury on the left side often can speak their second language, but not their native tongue—especially if they learned it after the age of 7. Their brain stored the new language on the other side of the brain. Wondering, I thought, what if we can make a “new dominant hand”? What if we can access the passive speech center through its corresponding hand, and get it to talk again?
And so I thought, what if we can make a “new dominant hand”? What if we can access the passive speech center, and get it to talk again? Later clinical studies showed the right hemisphere could only say 3 words, perhaps 4 words together. It appeared there was a limit to sequential memory in the right hemisphere, and that, due to the specialization of the adult brain, the right hemisphere speech center was incapable of initiating fluid speech. This was before the later concept of “brain plasticity” had emerged—the ability of the brain to change and learn even in an “aged brain”. So, after 18 months of working with my picture language cards, mostly independently with the help of my devoted mother, my father said his first spontaneous word—it was 9 years post-stroke. It was the first and only documented recovery from global aphasia.
He had progressed from being able to say only about 9 words to being able to repeat words and copy them, writing the letters under the picture. As the long months passed, it seemed hopeless that he would ever be able to talk spontaneously, however. But then about 18 months later, watching the report on TV on the Mars explorer expedition, he drew a picture of the solar system and near the fourth planet wrote the word “Mars” and then pointing to it said “Mars”. He then found that he could say “Mars” whenever he wanted to. That was the beginning.
In 1973, I moved to California to find employment, and left my father to work on his own. I remember coming back home to visit him; and he looked up at me and said, “Amazing.” Tearfully, I told him it truly was amazing! As his speaking vocabulary increased to over 700 words, he was able to go downtown on the bus by himself, go to the grocery store and the post office, even the bank. He became an artist with his left hand and showed his works in the state capitol building.
I went on to create the first talking software for aphasia recovery in 1988. It ran on an Apple IIe computer with an Echo Speech device. My husband, Michael helped me design and produce the program, while speech pathologists reviewed the plan and tested it at U.C. Davis Medical Center. In 1991, Reader’s Digest published, “Prisoner of Silence” written by Geeta Dardick—one of those “amazing stories.” Also, in 1991 Johns Hopkins University awarded me a “Certificate of Achievement” as the creator of the first talking software for speech therapy and aphasia recovery—I had won, over 2,000 other entries in the competition. The program called “Breakthrough to Language” sold to the speech therapy field, as well as to Special Education, and by now has sent to over 50,000 adults, to help them recover their speech.
This success was to be short-lived however. Computer technology was advancing so rapidly, that we were forced to upgrade. The investors, however, didn’t understand the need to upgrade the software to high-resolution graphics. It would cost a half a million dollars to duplicate the program—it would be too costly. Without the upgrade, the program became obsolete. Sadly we closed the company and retired the program.
My husband, Michael and I decided to move to Woodstock, New York in 1995 to start over. There we would be close to writers and publishers, as well as old family networks that could us help us. After about a year, I realized that a whole new program could be created as an online program.
I learned to program in HTML and created, with Michael’s help, the first online talking software for speech recovery in 1998. I focused more on self-help for stroke and brain-injury survivors, and added different Sensory Trigger programs and techniques that were not computer-based. I created StrokeFamily.org, a web site devoted to helping stroke and head injury survivors recover their speech, rebuild their body and prevent stroke. The “Let’s Talk” software program sold well and helped many people recover their speech. I continued my research and wrote guides and paper programs to make the “Whole Speech Practice Kit”. We didn’t know then how important this work would be to our own family—that catastrophic traumatic brain damage would strike again.
In the spring of 2008, Michael had just finished the last edit on his book, A Spring Without Bees, how colony collapse disorder has endangered our food supply”—a book that the publisher realized was so important, it had to be rushed to publication. After over-working, under unusually high stress, for 9 months, he did not look or feel well. His complexion was ashen, even though he ate well and he had been falling asleep in the middle of the day, sometimes sleeping for hours. The way he walked was almost lop-sided and weak. Michael shrugged this off as exhaustion and the fact that he had not had time to exercise for months. Melissa, our daughter, and I were worried about him—our premonitions told us there was something quite wrong with him. When we pleaded with him to see a doctor, he dismissed us. “No, that’s not necessary”, he said, “I’ll just get back in shape now that the book is finished.”
Then on the evening of April 2, 2008, Michael developed a sudden severe backache. He said he wanted to lie down for a while and went upstairs. For some reason I followed him, deciding to work on my computer near him while he rested. Suddenly he said, “Barbara I’ve got this terrible pain in my back—it’s getting worse. I don’t know what’s going on. “
“Is it like a spasm?” I asked. He groaned: “No, it’s a like a knife ripping into me!” Instantly, I was on the search engine, typing in “heart attack, back pain.” It came up as a symptom. “Does your shoulder hurt?” “Yes” “Do your fingers tingle or feel numb?” “Yeah, a little.” He struggled to sit up but fell back on the bed. “It’s getting worse—I can…I c…I…can…feel…it—-my chest”. Now he was having trouble getting the words out. Suddenly I remembered the nightmare I had three nights earlier. In the dream I had come home to find Michael dead on the floor in a pool of blood with a hole in his heart that looked like a bullet wound. A strange feeling came over me that this was not just a bad backache. “You’re going to the ER right now!” “Why!?” he asked in disbelief. “Because you’re having a heart attack, and you have clear signs of impending stroke.”
“There isn’t time for the ambulance—we live too far away, and it might take an ambulance a half an hour to get here.” I knew from my research that there is usually only a 20-25 minute window of opportunity to get to the hospital to receive life-saving treatment. “Melissa!” I called as we rushed out the door, “Call the hospital—the number is on the computer screen—tell them a heart attack and possible stroke will be in the ER within 20 minutes—tell them to have the stroke team and expert cardiologist ready and the CAT scan scheduled for use.”
Michael now was noticeably limping and leaning heavily toward his right side as he quickly got to the car. “I’ll have to speed to get there in time”, I said. Now Michael wasn’t talking, but making struggling sounds next to me in the front seat. I drove at 70 mile an hour with my hazard lights flashing. “What am I doing?” I thought to myself.
“You know this is the only way to save his life” was the answer I heard in my head. “You’re going to be okay, Michael,” I said, as I reached over to hold his hand. Miraculously, there happened to be no one on the highway as we sped toward Kingston and strangely there were no patrol cars to pull me over–and all the lights turned green—no one was even in our lane as we streaked down Broadway and turned into the hospital ER at 8:30 p.m.
As it turned out, we made it just in time. If we had been 10 minutes later he would have died. When the CAT scan revealed a problem with the aorta (an artery that feeds the brain) and not the heart, Michael was immediately airlifted to Albany Medical center where he was rushed into a 7-hour high-risk operation to install an artificial artery before it burst, and he would bleed to death.
He survived the operation, but the next day it was clear he had massive brain damage to his left hemisphere, and even some to his right hemisphere. The neurologist showed me the scan and my heart sunk. Almost his entire left hemisphere was gone. I knew what I was looking at. The area of damage looked like it was about 20 greater than the amount that would wipe out his speech and comprehension. The doctors said, “There will be no speech” “What about speech therapy?” I asked. The top neurologist shook his head and paused—“It’s not possible…there will be no speech”.
Numbly, I walked away wondering “Is he one of those I can’t help?” Then—trying to reassure myself, “Well, I have helped my father who was declared untreatable and I have helped countless other “hopeless” cases…maybe. He is an expert musician—maybe he has mixed dominance…his right hemisphere was virtually untouched…I have to believe! I just have to believe in him, in God…in myself. And if I don’t know how to help him, even if I don’t know the answer, I promise, I’ll find it!”
Holding Michael’s left hand, and leaning close to him, I started at once with the Sensory Trigger Method. He was still in his coma. I talked to him and told him not to give up, that he knew that I would help him recover and that one day he would walk and talk again. I talked to him for at least 30 minutes each day while stimulating his left hand. My mind raced with all the things I needed to do…with all the things I had to do and all the things I could do.
Michael had to relearn how to breathe. His lungs had been shut down so long, that when the heart was restarted, they were collapsed and no longer worked. He spent the first month connected to life support with an artificial breathing machine that made horrifying sounds as the air was sucked in and then was forced out through the plastic rimmed tube in his throat.
There were all kinds of tubes; feeding tubes and drainage tubes sprouted from all parts of his body. A large piece of this skull on the left side had to be removed to relieve the pressure from the swelling of his brain. His head bulged out grotesquely on that side for a few weeks and then as the swelling went down, it caved in.
This left -brain had collapsed and he couldn’t make any sounds at all. But he could nod his head for yes and no if I held his left hand. I showed this to the nurses who were flabbergasted. They couldn’t get answers out of him…but I could. I could, because I was using the Sensory Trigger Method that was going to the undamaged right hemisphere, while normal speech without the touch signal only went to the damaged side.
It was the end of April, and he had just been moved out of critical care at Albany Medical Center and into an acute care program at Sunnyview Rehab. in Schenectady, when the publisher sent the prepublication copy of his book. Melissa and I drove there to visit him almost every day, and this day we had his book in hand. When we arrived in his room I brought out the book and placed it in his hands. He wept as he realized he had lived to see his book published. I put the book in his left hand and held the book for him on the right side as Melissa turned a few pages. He looked hard at the print and I noticed his eyes scanning from left to right. “I think he is trying to read”, I said. After a while I noticed the light of recognition in his eyes as his eyes efficiently moved from left to right and he broke out in a huge smile. “I think he is reading! Are you reading, Michael? Can you read?” He looked at me and made a little sound. “You can read, Michael, can’t you. You can still read!” and he nodded slightly, his eyes shining!
After he put the book down, and we had all taken a break the thought came to me to try to get him to say the word “read”. So I went back in, took up his left hand and told him, “I believe you can say ‘read’. Let’s try it!” I let him watch my face. I said softly, “read”–exaggerating my facial expression. “uh” he responded. “Read”, I repeated. “You can do it—rrrrr—eee—d” “Uh r uh…dah”, he said. “Good! You made the r sound!” Over and over again we tried. I held his left hand while working with him. Finally in about an hour—it seemed like eternity—he said the word….”read”. “READ! Yes! Read! You said the word read!” I exclaimed. Melissa and I hugged him and cried and he cried too—he had said his first word. The doctors and nurses were so amazed—no one could believe it. “It’s very unusual–so early on”, one physician said blandly. But for me it was a sign—he could recover his speech.
Months passed and all he could say was “read.” “Read—read—read,” he would say it for “I love you”. “Read,” he would say for “yes,” and “read” he would say for “no.” It was his all-purpose word. He said, “read” for everything. This is because he not only had aphasia, the loss of speech—he also had apraxia and dyspraxia—repetitious speech not tied to meaning, unintelligible speech, and partially intelligible speech. He even had left hand motor apraxia, which meant that he could not gesture to something that he wanted. He would reach over and pick up a pencil when he meant to pick up his spoon. He was far more damaged than my father had been. He would have to overcome all these different speech disorders.
Speech therapy was not really successful at Sunnyview. He could repeat the days of the week after the therapist and repeat numbers. He then could recite the numbers from memory in order up to ten, but not say them, or verbally identify them, on his own.
The qEEGs done at the NorthEast Center by Dr. Victor Zelek show serious dysregulation spreading across the left hemisphere (left) On the Right, the impaired communication between parts of the brain is shown by the thick congested red and blue lines indicating hypo and hypercoherence and phase problems
The Northeast Center or NCSC as it is affectionately called, is an innovative, skilled nursing facility—perhaps one of the most innovative in the country. The idea here is that traumatic brain injuries take a long time to recover from, and that most severe brain injuries don’t recover fully because the brain is not stimulated in creative ways. The Center features an extensive and extraordinarily successful art therapy program and music therapy program. Michael, being an amazing musician, not only performed as lead singer, he composed and recorded his own original music, playing the violin, guitar and mandolin with virtuosity. In their music program he was allowed to be the “star” and could sing the words to his songs clearly, while the Center’s band learned and performed the music complete with musicians, and back-up singers who were also recovering from strokes and brain injuries.
I petitioned the Center to have a computer placed in Michael’s room so he would run my “Let’s Talk” program, alongside their speech therapy program. It was an informal adjunct speech therapy program. This, at first, raise eyebrows, but as he progressed more rapidly, with the Sensory Trigger Method, and the programs in the kit, the speech therapist was allowed to include it in her therapy sessions with him. As predicted, in 6 weeks, his brain had grown new connections and now more spontaneous words were coming back every day. His tendency to say the word “read” for everything slowly faded away into the background. I started sentence practice with him, beginning with 3 word sentences. And then six months later, he began to say spontaneous phrases and some sentences on his own…words that were not practiced, but words and sentences coming from the right hemisphere speech center’s ability to grow new connections in the brain.
LORETA Images show the deeper penetration of the damage from the cortex, into and a small distance across the corpus callosum
Around this time we gained permission to take Michael out of the Center to receive special treatment given by Dr. Stephen Larsen. Ironically, we had been great friends of Stephen and his wife Robin. Here it was—miraculously—“synchronistically”, you might say, our friend Stephen, who had successfully treated the severely brain injured with LENS neurofeedback and other neuro-regenerative therapies!
When Michael started with LENS, he couldn’t walk more than a very short distance, and was still bound to his wheelchair. A few short months after treatment at Stone Mountain, he was walking with assistance into the office with a hemi-walker cane, sitting down in a regular chair, and walking back out to the car! And now, at almost 3 years post stroke, he walked into the office without his cane and with just a little assistance from his aide and me to help him get up the steps and steady his balance.
Dr. Larsen mapped Michael’s brain and has kept careful records—charting the increase in brain wave activity that is now traveling through of it’s own accord in the previously “dead zones” of the left hemisphere. It appears that the two therapies have a synergistic effect when it comes to speech, as both methods make new pathways in the brain. Both confirm the new paradigm of brain function—the plasticity or learning capability of the injured brain—the brain that can heal itself.
The First LENS Maps Done by Dr. Stephen Larsen at Stone Mountain Center in July of 2009—No electrodes were placed above the area where there was no skull (Black Area on Left)
Today, almost 3 years later, Michael speaks in short clear sentences and continues to say new words and phrases every day, entirely on his own. His writing lags behind his speech, but we are now working on that in earnest, as I design and develop new more advanced Sensory Trigger programs that can break through the iron walls of apraxia and dyspraxia in both speech and writing.
Now, I often think of the thousands—perhaps hundreds of thousands of stroke and head injury survivors who have not been so fortunate to have the Sensory Trigger Method or neurofeedback therapy and are still trapped in the silence of aphasia or the repetitive meaningless speech of apraxia and dyspraxia.
I have videotaped his progress at each step, each breakthrough in his recovery, and have published these clips on Strokefamily.org for others to get a sense of what real speech recovery looks and sounds like. He still has dyspraxia and makes some mistakes in his speech. He still works to break through the blocks to what he is trying to say. Yet he continues to recover with brain regenerative approaches like LENS neurofeedback and the Sensory Trigger Method and remarkably more and more independently.
Michael becomes more like himself every day.
Turning the Lights Back On:
Stephen Larsen Describes his Treatment of Michael Schacker:
When I first visited my friend in the Northeast Center, I was overwhelmed with sensations: The open, inviting lobby was flanked by two lofty atria, filled with plants—and with the art work of patients. A woman played respectable jazz piano on an electronic keyboard in the lobby. But even to get to the elevators, one passed dozens of patients who were extremely compromised by their injuries: Wheelchairs, irregular locomotion. A few people seemed caught in a private converation with themselves; some others shouted and gesticulated. A few were high-functioning enough to engage in personal conversations. One man told me quite lucidly of his accident that had left him wheelchair bound, and with a complicated brain injury.
Michael was on the second floor, in a large room with his own bathroom and a window. All around was tangible evidence of his political and environmental affiliation; a picture of Barack Obama; nature scenes, lots of books, a computer and a keyboard. Not bad for a hospital! Michael wore a purple football helmet because of his open skull. One false move in the bathroom, one lunge from his bed to the wall and the brain damage could be incalculable. Day and night he had to wear that helmet. But he seemed to remember me, and greeted me warmly. His smile was lopsided, but very genuine. The only words he could say were: “read read read!” But he smiled with great warmth and enthusiasm as he said it. Barbara had already been working with the Sensory Trigger, and the imagery work that she had developed to help her father. There were cards around and she could start up a computer program. Michael was working cheerfully and willingly every day.
I was in the process of negotiating a professional agreement to come into the center and treat Michael, when the founding director, Anthony Salerno died, and there were major administrative shifts. Barbara decided to schedule weekly appointments for LENS sessions at our center, about 15 miles away from the Northeast Center, on an out-patient basis.
Michael arrived in a wheelchair, wearing his purple helmet, and smiling broadly at the outing. Dr. Zelek had already done a qEEG on Michael at the Northeast Center. He confessed to me that he was “trepidatious because the q requires a cap and the cap covered the place where Michael had not protective skull. But the map was completed and confirmed the extent of the damage that the CAT scan had also showed. (see above)
Wonders of Modern Surgery: The skull plate, cryogenically preserved, is replaced almost a year after its removal
I was thrilled when Michael’s skull plate was restored in November of 2009, after about 25 neurofeedback treatments. Because it meant the re-traumatization caused the restorative surgery was now behind us. And we could begin to treat the area underneath it (where theoretically there was no brain) in earnest.
Dr Juan Acosta doing q at SMC
The comparison of the qEEG’s a year apart is shown below. Michael is now able to walk into the center with a cane, and has a vocabulary of several hundred words. The LORETA map also shows profound differences.
The two sets of maps show Michael’s brain a year apart, and after about 25 LENS treatments. Note the Injury areas in both the qEEG images and the LORETA
These are the most Recent LENS Maps done in May 2010, after about 45 Treatments. Note the Return of 7-9 Hz activity in the damaged area (where there is not supposed to be any brain!
Michael’s sense of humor has visibly returned, as witnessed by his ability to crack Barbara up. Below, at Stone Mountain’s annual Beltane Festival, Michael has been able to sing—accompanying one of his own CD’s, in front of 1000 people.
As of this writing, Michael Schacker has been living in his own apartment, on disability, with caretakers coming in to help him, on a schedule. He is growing stronger every day. He was recently able to walk into the center without his cane, and with a little assistance. The man who would never talk, now has a vocabulary of well over 1000 words. He is able to read, use the computer, and is practicing to regain control of his right hand with the Ramachandran box we have had built for him.
The earlier version of this story has been published as a section of a chapter (Chapter 12) in my book The Neurofeedback Solution (Healing Arts Press, 2012).
Last year Michael was able to perform musically in front of a crowd of about a thousand at our annual Beltane Festival. His language comprehension is really normalized though his language production is still halting. He can put short sentences together (This article is being completed in January 2013.) The man who according to his neurologists “would never walk or talk again” is doing both! In late 2011 in one of our neurofeedback sessions Michael kept emphasizing: Stephen: Book! Book! I replied, “Michael, your bee book is wonderful, and influencing people all over America and Europe—but he was insistent. Then Barbara said, “Oh no, I think he means the book he’s been working on for 30 years! What’s that?” I asked.
After I read it, almost completely finished, except for the last chapter, I knew it was publishable, and talked my friend John Graham at Park St. Press into publishing it. (Barbara finished the last chapter from some other writings, Michael re-read and approved the whole thing, and I wrote an introduction. The handsome hardbound edition of Global Awakening (Jan 2013 Park St. Press) is a work of genius, and not to be missed!
For more information on the Sensory Trigger, visit Strokefamily.org
Stephen Larsen, PhD, LMHC (NY), BCN is Psychology Professor Emeritus, SUNY, director of Stone Mountain Center, PC, and with his wife Robin, co-founder of the not-for-profit Center for Symbolic Studies. He is the author of 10 books currently in print, among which are The Healing Power of Neurofeedback (2006) and The Neurofeedback Solution (2012). He also wrote, with Robin, A Fire in the Mind, the Authorized Biography of Joseph Campbell, the award-winning The Fundamentalist Mind (2007), The Mythic Imagination (1990) and The Shaman’s Doorway (1976.) He has presented many papers and chaired symposia at ISNR and AAPB conferences, and published article sin both The Journal of Neurotherapy, and Biofeedback.