Before it happened, Carl McIntyre was an actor – not exactly a Hollywood phenom but a successful actor nonetheless, with a couple of film roles and a steady stream of television, stage and commercial gigs to his credit. Communication was his commodity.
But on the evening of Sept. 15, 2005, while rocking his young son to sleep, McIntyre’s right arm and leg suddenly grew tingly and then went completely dead. A large blood clot had dislodged from his heart, traveled up to his brain and wedged itself inside a major artery, cutting off the blood supply and depriving most of his left cerebral hemisphere of oxygen.
Brain tissue starved of oxygen dies within minutes, and once dead, it doesn’t regenerate. This was a stroke, and it was massive.
McIntyre didn’t know it at the time, but the stroke had destroyed virtually all of his brain’s language control circuits. In his prime at age 44, with a wife and three small children, he acquired severe aphasia – the loss of language ability due to brain injury.
Aphasia affects more Americans than spinal cord injury and cerebral palsy combined. It’s as prevalent as Parkinson’s disease or schizophrenia, yet relatively few people have heard of aphasia or realize its devastating impact.
The disorder is caused by brain lesions that interfere with the neurological process that translates thought into speech.
For the past 10 years, Gregory Hickok, professor of cognitive sciences at UC Irvine and director of the campus’s Center for Language Science, has been using fMRI to study the brain and the neural abnormalities that impair language ability in stroke victims.
He has received more than $6 million from the National Institutes of Health to fund his work, including a landmark aphasia study in which McIntyre is a participant.
Exhaustive therapy has helped McIntyre regain his faculty for speech, though he still has difficulty with sentences longer than a few words.
Hickok and McIntyre will kick off the School of Social Sciences’ 2013-14 Expert Speaker Series on Monday, Nov. 18, with a 6 p.m. program in Room 1517 of the Social & Behavioral Sciences Gateway building.
McIntyre will screen his award-winning short film “Aphasia,” a documentary about his experience. He and Hickok will then give a brief presentation and answer questions about aphasia research at UC Irvine. A reception will follow.
The event is sponsored by the Multisite Aphasia Research Consortium and the university’s Center for Language Science, Center for Hearing Research and School of Social Sciences.