In 2019, Peter Thrubis sat in the office of his soon-to-be speech-language pathologist, Samantha Osborne, with his sister and his wife, anxious about his next steps in out-patient speech therapy. It was until Thrubis took notice of Osborne’s Nike Spartan Sneakers — the same pair he was wearing at that exact moment — that his anxiety began to dilute, and he knew he was going to be in good hands.
Three weeks before meeting Osborne, Thrubis had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke after crossing the finish line of a 5K race at just 41 years old. He was rushed to Beaumont Hospital for treatment where he stayed for two weeks, undergoing intense physical and speech therapy to begin his healing process. It was there that he was diagnosed with aphasia — the loss of ability to understand or express speech. As a result, his brain had to start making new pathways.
“It was almost like I was in a bad dream,” said Thrubis. “Almost like when you are being chased by somebody and you try to scream but you can’t.”
When Thrubis first arrived at Osborne’s office, he couldn’t formulate many words. But after noticing Osborne’s Spartan sneakers and her Michigan State University diploma from the College of Communication, Arts and Sciences, he began to use some verbal and written communication to let her know that he was not just an MSU alum, but a ComArtSci alum as well. They immediately established a bond.
After coming home from his first appointment with Osborne, Thrubis immediately started exercising his writing skills. After almost an hour, Thrubis had written the sentence, “I will get better because we are Spartans.” From there, the hard work continued.
Thrubis describes starting with the basics.
“I started with letters on a page with the goal of simply looking at an ‘A’ and saying what it was. I was so disheartened when I could hardly even read letters of the alphabet. It took me at least one to two minutes to get ‘A’ out of my mouth, but Sam persisted and gave me confidence that I could make a recovery.”
Osborne also had Thrubis doing a lot of MSU-related tasks, starting as simple as saying, “Go Green!” and then moving on to more challenging practices.
“Later on, we worked on his word retrieval and apraxia of speech through conversational discourse regarding MSU sports, whether it be his predictions for an upcoming game or his opinion on a player, Pete would get those words out,” said Osborne. “Talking about MSU was important to Peter which kept him motivated in our sessions.”
Osborne graduated from MSU in 2018 with a master’s degree in communicative sciences and disorders. Right out of graduate school, Osborne was hired at Beaumont Health where she has worked for the past five years.
“At the time, I had worked with many patients who had suffered from a stroke,” she said. “However, I had not worked with a patient as motivated and driven as Pete. Pete constantly wanted more homework, more tasks, more ideas of what he could be doing at home.”
When Thrubis began speech therapy, his goal was to get his writing and verbal communication skills back to where they were before the stroke. As the director of strategic consulting for GM/auto at Epsilon, Thrubis has a true affinity for writing as a professional communicator and strategist.
After their therapy sessions, Osborne would assign Peter with homework to complete before their next session, which typically consisted of worksheets or writing about a topic of Thrubis’ choice. Thrubis came back to each session exceeding the amount of work assigned, asking for more.
“There was no limit in his mind. I would assign Pete three pages of homework and he would return having completed 10 pages,” said Osborne.
Thrubis graduated from MSU’s James Madison College in 2000 with a bachelor’s in social relations, but continued his education at ComArtSci and received his master’s in public relations in 2003. After graduation, Peter spent his career working in Detroit’s advertising industry and was determined to get back to it.
As Thrubis continued working with Osborne, he developed a different outlook on his therapy sessions. All of the work Thrubis was doing to reach his goal also catered to his interests and he was able to connect with someone over a mutual appreciation for MSU in the process. He looked forward to their meetings and was motivated by the work they were doing, in addition to the progress he’d made.
“[Sam] was such a friend,” said Thrubis. “Our meetings were a one-hour session, three days a week, so I would really look forward to those meetings because it was like I got to see my friend, Sam and not my doctor, Sam.”
With Osborne’s help and Thrubis’ determination, he was able to get his speech back to about 95 percent of what it was before the stroke, but there are still days that are more difficult than others. Thrubis explains how being tired, upset, or under a lot of stress can make his aphasia worse, so it’s important to keep a positive mentality and have a lot of patience.
He has found meditation to be very beneficial and overall, just a good way to let his brain process and reflect.
“It’s just nice to sit quietly and have a few minutes to yourself when your brain is trying to go all over the place,” said Thrubis. “My brain is so different from what it was before the stroke. That was a way to check-in to my brain and say, ‘You know it’s working differently now. How can I harness this new brain to do what I did before?’”
Thrubis hopes that by sharing his experiences, he can not only help support other stroke survivors, but also show an appreciation for the care teams, family members and friends who help in the process as well.
“Strokes are a family affair. Fortunately, I have a care team — my sister, my brother, my wife, my parents, my friends — everybody rallied around me and helped me get better. Without that support, I don’t think that I would be where I am today.”
Moreover, Thrubis wants to highlight Osborne’s role in his recovery and how crucial she was to the process. Thrubis explains that if he can help just one person by sharing his perceptions and experiences, he’ll feel like he’s giving something back to Osborne and all the speech-language pathologists that helped him.
“I want this to give a little shine to Sam. I want her to know how much I appreciate her and that there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of her.”
By Casey Halas