Faculty Feature

Opening lines of communication

Dr. Ryan Husak, right, leads the University’s community speech-language clinics, which are making life-changing differences for their clients.

ryan husak with mark goodman

An image appeared on the screen. It showed Mark Goodman, M.A. ’98, standing with his sister outside of a restaurant in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1980s. Goodman continued to click through the slides. Next, there were pictures of human rights activist Malcolm X and jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie, and a mural of heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.

They served as part of a presentation highlighting the history and cultural renaissance of Harlem. Goodman began drafting this presentation more than a decade ago. He completed it last spring, thanks to the clinical therapy he received from speech- language pathology students at La Salle University. He did so largely with the help of La Salle’s Speech-Language-Hearing Community Clinic, home to the dedicated faculty and graduate student clinicians of the St. Francis Clinic for Adults.

In February 2012, at age 68, Goodman suffered a stroke that left him with aphasia, a disorder that affects a person’s ability to communicate. Aphasia sufferers experience difficulty talking, writing, speaking, and listening; however, their intelligence, memory, and reasoning are not impacted.

For Goodman, aphasia created a need for outpatient rehabilitation.

Ryan S. Husak, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, has been involved with La Salle’s St. Francis Clinic since his first days on campus in August 2018. A certified speech-language pathologist and an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Husak specializes in assessment and management of aphasia and other related neurogenic communication disorders.

“Working with individuals with aphasia and their family members is always a rewarding and profoundly meaningful experience,” Husak said. “The most important component to treatment is to make the therapy personally relevant and meaningful to the client and his or her family. This requires taking the time to really get to know your clients and discovering ways to help them return to previously enjoyed activities or find new activities that bring excitement and meaning into their lives and those around them.”

Over the years, Husak has helped clients write letters to grandchildren, start a business, plan a family vacation, re-connect with old friends, and learn how to say, “I love you,” to a spouse.

“I am excited to be teaching students how to serve individuals who have lost the ability to communicate due to stroke, injury, or neurodegenerative diseases,” he said.

According to the National Aphasia Association, approximately two million people living in the U.S. suffer from aphasia and nearly 200,000 Americans will acquire it each year. It usually occurs after suffering a stroke to the left hemisphere of the brain.

Including Goodman, 46 clients receive treatment at the two speech-language-hearing clinics at La Salle: the St. Francis Clinic for Adults and the St. Blase Clinic for Children. Twenty of these clients are adults who receive one-on-one therapy from a graduate student who is supervised by a licensed and ASHA certified speech-language pathologist. Eleven of the clients also benefit from attending aphasia group therapy, a program Husak started as part of La Salle’s Aphasia Academy in the summer of 2019.

mark goodman presentation

Mark Goodman, M.A. ‘98, delivers a presentation at La Salle last year, following clinical therapy he received from speech-language pathology students.

In just the short time he has overseen Goodman’s treatment, Husak said the progress has been remarkable. One of the goals Husak said he and the Speech-Language-Hearing Community Clinic developed for Goodman was for Goodman to deliver his presentation.

“What’s most notable about the speech Mark gave is the nature of it,” Husak said. “Usually when you have a person with aphasia giving a presentation, the content is centered around the disorder. In Mark’s case, it was entirely separate. He set out to present the research he collected before his stroke and he did that successfully.”

Husak added: “It’s a fantastic example of moving on with life and not letting the disorder define you.”

Goodman came to La Salle for a graduate degree in bilingual/bicultural studies, graduating in 1998. He taught English in the School District of Philadelphia and at the Community College of Philadelphia. He owned a landscaping company that served the city’s Mount Airy, Germantown, and Chestnut Hill sections, and boroughs in nearby Montgomery County.

While aphasia has affected his life greatly, Goodman continues to pursue his passions including nature, flowers, and growing vegetables—and continues to strengthen his communication skills.

In a recent session at the St. Francis Clinic, Goodman took part in a multi-modal communication treatment called PACE. It stands for Promoting Aphasics’ Communicative Effectiveness. PACE enabled Goodman to express himself by supplementing his limited verbal communication with other communication modalities like body language, hand gestures, and drawing.

First, Goodman observed a picture. He took a pen and paper and began drawing a multi-story building. Beside it, he drew several stick figures. Then, he took his hand and ran it up and down, from his neck to his belt. The gesture implied a necktie. He effectively conveyed to his graduate-student clinician the subject of the picture—businesspeople engaged in a meeting.

Emily Melone, ’21, is on her way toward completing La Salle’s five-year Communication Science and Disorders program and earning a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. She has worked with Goodman in the St. Francis Clinic since last fall.

“Working with Mark has made me realize I am in the right profession for myself,” she said. “I saw Mark grow as a client throughout the semester, and I saw myself grow as a student clinician. There is something special about being able to help someone recover from and cope with a disorder that has changed their life completely. While many of us take the ability to speak for granted, it can be taken away in an instant and change one’s whole life. Working with individuals with aphasia has made me realize how much the disorder not only affects one’s speech, but their whole world. Seeing Mark eager to come to therapy has made me realize how important our profession is in helping others overcome life’s battles.”