‘Anything is possible’

‘Anything is possible’

Stroke victim Avi Golden plays an animated “Tevye” at the Adler Aphasia Center.

Avi Golden doesn’t sit still.

When he is not educating the medical and lay community about aphasia, he can be found on a ski slope, or on horseback, or scuba diving (zip-lining, kayaking, sailing, rock-climbing, etc.).

The 40-year-old, who is practicing EMT and former critical care and flight paramedic with Long Island Jewish Hospital and New York Presbyterian Hospital EMS – and a paramedic with Magen David Adom in Israel as well – is founder, and cheerleader-in-chief, of NYC Outdoors Disability, a sports group for people with a variety of physical disabilities.

“I tell them anything is possible,” he said. That philosophy might help explain how – after suffering a stroke during a medical procedure some 7 l/2 years ago – he was able to graduate from wheelchair to cane to unassisted walking. And if his arm is not back to normal yet, it’s not for lack of trying.

Twice a week, Mr. Golden can be found at the Adler Aphasia Center in Maywood, going from activity to activity, distinguished both by his energy and by his kippah. Though he has appeared in each of the center’s theatrical productions, he seems to have cemented his reputation there with a star turn as Tevye in last year’s “Fiddler.”

“I like to perform,” he said.

The center is also where he recruits some of his sports buddies. He doesn’t ask them to do anything he hasn’t done himself.

“After my stroke I was afraid to go to Six Flags” adventure park, he said, but he knew he had to go to overcome his own fears. Otherwise, he would not be able to ask others to do the same.

Now, when he invites members of the center to go, say, skydiving – he has gone twice – he can tell them his own story. So far, he has enticed dozens of local participants.

“Come stretch your boundaries,” Mr. Golden tells them, urging them to “expand your horizons after becoming disabled.”

His outdoors program – which engages in activities from nature walks to white, water rafting – is targeted to people who live with a wide range of disabilities, including those who have had strokes, spinal cord injuries, amputation, or sensory impairments. The program partners with other organizations, and adaptive equipment is available when needed.

Mr. Golden, who was raised in Lubbock, Texas, had been fluent in both English and Hebrew. He is determined to recapture both languages.

To do this, he generally spends about 15 hours a day engaged in some kind of speech therapy.

“My mother was born in Jerusalem,” he said. “I still understand Hebrew, but I can’t read, write, or speak it now.”

As for English, “I can understand everything but I can’t get the words out,” he wrote in the PowerPoint presentation he has prepared to help him explain aphasia. He noted that a review of his EMT manual showed that aphasia rates only one mention – not nearly enough, he said.

Mr. Golden also is engaged in volunteer work, assisting paramedics at two New York hospitals and visiting stroke patients at North Shore Hospital and Long Island Jewish Hospital.

He said that after someone has a stroke, he or she may be tempted to retreat. “I tell them not to give up,” he said.

Mr. Golden said he attends the Maywood center because “everybody is awesome. I have fun there. Thank God there are people like this” helping those with aphasia. He values the friendships he has made there, with other members and with staff.

Before his stroke, it was Mr. Golden’s dream to enter medical school. He decided that before beginning his medical studies, he would get a prophylactic operation to correct a hereditary problem with a valve in his head. He suffered a stroke during the operation, and then spent four months in the hospital.

While he hasn’t given up on his dream, Golden notes that “aphasia is frustrating.” He writes in his PowerPoint presentation that he still has problems with names, numbers, spelling, and reading, but that it helps when he can hear the first sound in a word clearly and when people speak to him directly.

He is convinced that the advocacy work he does with doctors, nurses, and medical students – both at the center and when invited to address other organizations – is paying off, giving the medical professionals new insights into the condition.

“There’s so much to say,” he said. “We’ve got to talk about it, to sensitize them.”

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