Speaking from the heart

Speaking from the heart

Sometimes even bashert couples find themselves tested when fate throws them a curve. Elaine and Mike Adler discovered new challenges — and new depths — to their relationship when serious illness struck.

Elaine Finkel grew up in Brooklyn and was living with her family in Manhattan’s Upper West Side when her brother brought a fellow NYU student, Myron — or Mike — Adler, over to study for a test. "I was also going to NYU, but downtown," Elaine explains, "while my brother and Mike were at the Heights campus uptown." Although she and Mike had different circles of friends, an attraction formed, and when he asked her out, she was happy to accept.

Since Mike was a former G.I. without much money (he’d served in Patton’s army during the war), Elaine suggested an inexpensive concert in Central Park. "It wasn’t a hardship," she says, "I loved hearing Goldman’s Band play."

Elaine and Mike Adler stand in front of the Aphasia Institute they created.

That first bucolic date soon led to a serious relationship.

Even though Mike had been taking premed courses and had been accepted to medical school — following in the footsteps of his physician father — he felt eager to get out into the real world. He first became a textile salesman, then soon embarked on his own business venture, producing specialty wallets. His company was incorporated in 1949, the same year he and Elaine were married.

"His first big order came in just before our wedding," Elaine relates. "My brother had to take over production and finish the order, so that Mike and I could go on our honeymoon."

As time went by, Elaine worked as an office manager, while Mike built up the company. They were living in a small Manhattan apartment when their first two children, William and Rick, came along. It was clear they needed more room. With a mortgage with the help of the G.I. Bill, the Adlers bought a small house in Paramus. "There weren’t many Jews living there at the time," Elaine says. "Mike and I became founding members of the JCC of Paramus."

After the birth of two more children, Jim and Marie, the family bought a lot in Paramus and had a larger house built. Meanwhile, Mike’s company, the Myron Corporation, was doing very well, and would eventually go international. Elaine, who worked at the firm, cut back her hours to part time, a necessity with four active kids, although as she recalls, "I still shlepped to Hebrew school and shlepped to sports and other activities."

Twenty years ago, the Adlers moved to their current home in Franklin Lakes. "We still consider ourselves New Yorkers," Elaine admits, but adds that living right on a lake has its merits. "I love walking out to the water every morning."

One August morning in 1993, Mike returned from a game of tennis feeling ill. Elaine tried to convince him to see a doctor, but he refused. "He was stubborn," she says. When his symptoms grew worse, he finally agreed to go to the hospital — where doctors discovered he required a triple bypass. "He was doing wonderfully after the surgery," Elaine says, "but one afternoon a few days later, after he’d convinced me to go back to my office, I got the kind of phone call you dread. Mike had suffered a serious stroke."

The stroke left him with a condition called aphasia, meaning the language center in his brain could formulate words but not transmit them. He was unable to communicate verbally. Mike and Elaine were devastated by this development, and Mike became seriously depressed, wondering, "Why me?"

As a successful entrepreneur who’d bucked the odds before, Mike decided to fight back. He took tranquilizers to get past the worst stage of depression and denial — then went cold turkey. He also started one-on-one speech therapy, though that was not as satisfactory a solution as he’d hoped. Still he kept on, with Elaine encouraging him.

Five years ago, he decided he wanted to do something for other aphasics, and decided to open a therapy and recovery center. He and Elaine traveled to Tucson, Ariz., London, Oakland, Calif., and Toronto to see how other aphasia centers operated. One thing became clear — group therapy was more beneficial than one-on-one therapy. Elaine wasn’t surprised; she’d been a founding board member of the Hackensack chapter of Gilda’s Club, which recommends group therapy.

The Adlers earmarked an empty building they owned in Maywood, and set to work, hiring a director, a speech pathologist, and an administrative assistant. The Adler Aphasia Center started out working with four aphasics and their caregiver/spouses. "We especially wanted to give the caregivers some respite and TLC," Elaine says. "I knew firsthand how hard that role can be."

Today, more than 80 aphasics and 40 caregivers attend the center four days a week. In addition to therapy, programs include computers for cognition, the re-teaching of life habits such as talking on the phone and ordering in a restaurant, and cooking classes.

Elaine, who is on the board of the Center for Inter-Religious Understanding and the Arnold P. Gold Foundation for Humanism in Medicine, says her mission in life is to find a national spokesperson for aphasia. She might have made a good start with the center’s first gala in September, attended by 335 people. The center has also received a state grant with the help of State Sen. Loretta Weinberg and donations from other benefactors.

Mike often visits the center with Elaine, and though he doesn’t participate in the groups, he says just being there and knowing he helped bring it about is very therapeutic.

As for this marriage that has endured in the face of such adversity, Elaine says, "You need love and respect — and a lot of patience on both sides." Mike has his own answer. "Love," he says, "you’ve got to love your partner. It covers a lot of situations. You’ve got to love them."

Nancy Butler is the author of 1′ Regency romances, three nonfiction titles (including "The Quotable Lover," Lyons Press), and three novellas, and has twice won the prestigious RITA from the Romance Writers of America.

read more: