Immersive Education in the College of Health and Life Sciences

Kirby and Roger MongeauKirby and Roger Mongeau, Zurich, are familiar faces in Albertson Hall and can often be found sitting in the foyer visiting with students. They joke about how they can pick out the freshmen each semester and express how much they enjoy watching those students grow and change. The couple likes being around the students, and they look forward to their frequent visits to campus, but they are not here just to visit.  

Early on an April morning in 2008, Roger and Kirby’s lives changed forever. Kirby, awakened by a noise, rose to discover Roger on the floor. He had suffered a stroke which affected the side of his brain that controls communication and movement on the right side of his body.  

After hospitalization and a brief rehabilitation at the hospital, the couple’s insurance informed them that Roger’s rehab and therapy would no longer be covered. Privately paying for services at the hospital just was not an option for the couple. Because of the stroke, Roger was no longer able to work as sheriff, and Kirby had to become a full time caregiver. Their income was cut drastically. “It’s a low blow to have your whole life just jerked away from you,” said Kirby. “Everything changed.”

For many, the road to recovery may have ended there; however, Roger was referred by a hospital therapist to the FHSU Geneva Herndon Speech Language Hearing Clinic, housed in the Department of Communication Disorders, where he was able to continue his journey to regain what he had lost. Some experts believe that individuals will not progress after six months to a year of therapy. Jacque Jacobs '03, '05, CCC SLP, program specialist in the Department of Communication Disorders, does not agree. She feels that “as long as the client continues to be motivated, has family support and wants to improve; with those factors combined with therapy, I believe progress can continue for years. We see that; we’ve seen it with Roger.” Kirby adds, “This place has been a Godsend. I don’t know what we would have done without it. The progress Roger has made would not have been possible without the help of this clinic.” She wants people to know that this program is available to anyone of any age who has a communication disorder, and that it is affordable.  Roger Mongeau

When Roger began to work with faculty and student clinicians at the Herndon clinic in August 2008, he was not able to say more than about 20 words. Kirby explains that if he was prompted with a phrase such as “peanut butter and…” then Roger could say “jelly” or “salt and…” he could finish with “pepper” and he could sometimes count, however, he could not read or write. Today, after working with students and clinicians over the past four years, if he takes his time and feels that the other person is willing to wait for him to answer, then he can usually get out what he wants to say. He can now read and answer questions about short stories because his comprehension has come back, and he is now writing words and even beginning to work on spelling.

Roger is not the only one who benefits from participating in the clinic. The clinicians focus not just on the patient, but also on the family, especially the caregiver. Because this is a learning clinic, the students, pursuing degrees in Speech-Language Pathology, benefit greatly as well. Each semester, Roger works with a new student. Jacobs points out that the clients who participate, “understand that this is a teaching facility, and they enjoy the fact that they are teaching.” The Mongeaus love the interaction that they have with the students and appreciate that because of their participation, the students gain real experiences that they will take with them when they move into school and hospital settings.  

In addition to Roger’s individual and group therapy, both Roger and Kirby attend regular support group meetings facilitated by Herndon clinic staff and students. They both feel that having that connection to others with similar struggles has really helped them and is a big part of the reason they have been able to continue therapy. “It isn’t always easy, and sometimes the progress is slow,” Kirby shares, “The group members help each other. It’s something that they need.”  

Roger has made strides physically as well. Through regular exercise, at the Neuromuscular Wellness Center, supported by the Department of Health and Human Performance and directed by Dr. Charmane Kandt '84, his balance and strength have improved, and he has even regained some movement in his right arm and Roger Mongeauhand. Kandt stresses the importance of being active and notes that when individuals move and exercise “their circulation improves, their metabolism increases, and it is healing.” Kandt identifies the main goals of the Center as being mobility and fitness. She and the student clinicians, typically students from the Department of Health and Human Performance, strive to work the participants up to 30 minutes of movement every day. “You can’t just sit,” she said. “When you sit, the blood pools in the feet, you get fluid retention, and you lose muscle. This makes the disability get worse. We want to go in a positive direction. Doing nothing is going in a negative direction.”

When asked, Roger admits that he does not always like to exercise. Kirby explains, “He just doesn’t like it when his body doesn’t respond the way he wants it to and sometimes becomes frustrated.” She also points out that it is good for students to learn how to work through this with the participants and always explains to them that when Roger hits a wall, it is not their fault, and they should not take it personally. The students are getting hands-on experience working with real people dealing with real issues. “You can’t get that from a book,” Kirby points out. 

“He (Roger) has come so far.” says Kirby. “Dr. Kandt is very good at working with people. She pushes them until she can tell they don’t want to be pushed anymore. I’ve seen so many people come here for the exercise and been amazed at their progress.” The Neuromuscular Wellness Center assists individuals who have neurological disorders including but not limited to stroke, traumatic brain injury, paralysis, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and muscle spasticity. To learn more or to request services, call 785-628-5564.

The Herndon Speech Language Hearing Clinic is the only university affiliated clinic in western Kansas. The Clinic’s nationally certified and licensed faculty provide evaluation and treatment in articulation, language and literacy, voice, fluency, dysphagia, cognition, hearing, accent modification and professional voice training. To learn more or to request services, call 785-628-5366.