Merlin Kooistra and his speech therapist, Tara Leidigh
In 2013, Merlin Kooistra of Pella had a health event that left him in the hospital for 17 days, while a few of those days he was in a coma. He considers himself to be very lucky to be alive, but it’s been a tough journey toward his new normal.
“My speech was so terrible at first. I remembered nothing, not my wife’s name or my kids’ names, nothing,” said Merlin. When Merlin returned home, he started outpatient occupational and speech therapy at Pella Regional Health Center right away. The work he did with Speech Therapist Tara Leidigh was crucial to his recovery.
“Tara really helped with my speech. I love her dearly,” said Merlin. “She worked with me on comprehension and recall by having me repeat words after her and sent puzzles home with me to practice. It was so hard at first.”
Gene Schmitz, director of therapy services at the hospital, said Merlin’s experience with Tara is not unusual. “Tara is a speech therapist but is also so much more. She is a genuine person who cares about her patients and coworkers. I hear from patients frequently how the support group she started has helped them and their spouse to deal with the life change from the stroke.”
Merlin still struggles with comprehension at times. He describes it as “losing his words” and finds it embarrassing but has found that things are better when he is well rested.
“The most successful part of speech therapy was learning how to remember things again. Tara had a lot of tips and tricks for me to use,” shared Merlin. “Her caring is what helped me the most. She has been wonderful to me and so encouraging.”
Again, Gene Schmitz said, this is just how Tara dedicates herself to her patients. “Tara knows when her patients are discouraged and will go to great lengths to help them see how far they have come, point out the positives and spend therapy on very specific interests to make them realize their importance in life even though their life has drastically changed.”Share this story.