Long-time ISTAR volunteer receives crucial speech therapy thanks to donors

Donor-funded program helped OT grad access speech services after stroke

Amanda Anderson - 28 January 2021

As an occupational therapist, volunteer and donor to rehabilitation services, Lisa Pashniak never imagined she’d one day be on her own rehabilitation journey or on the receiving end of donor generosity.

But in April 2020, Pashniak found herself recovering at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital—the same place she completed a practicum during her time as a student in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine’s Department of Occupational Therapy.

In March she suffered a brain aneurysm and, subsequently, a stroke. She felt like her head was going to explode. Doctors performed emergency surgery. 

“When I regained consciousness, I realized I was stuttering,” Pashniak says. She was diagnosed with severe cognitive and motor speech deficits and was told she would need speech therapy.

Pashniak panicked—she knew the urgency of speech rehabilitation after stroke, but with many services locked down due to COVID-19, she worried there would be a lengthy wait for therapy.

So she decided to reach out to the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR), a University of Alberta organization she knew well.

Pashniak, who graduated from the U of A with an MSc OT degree in 2015, is a long-time ISTAR volunteer, as well as a donor. “I had an interest in speech pathology because my brother had a stutter growing up. He didn’t have the benefit of therapy as a child,” she says. Seeing the impact ISTAR’s clinicians had on clients of all ages inspired Pashniak to pursue a career in rehabilitation medicine.

When ISTAR’s clinic director found out about Pashniak’s stroke and the wait time for treatment, she suggested she apply for the ISTAR Client Assistance Program (ICAP). Pashniak was eligible for funding and within days began working with a speech-language pathologist at ISTAR’s Calgary office.

Pashniak started her speech therapy on time thanks to the generosity of donors who make ICAP possible. Donors like the REALTORS® Community Foundation (RCF), a charitable organization that has supported ISTAR since 2008.

“Bringing REALTORS® together to move communities forward is RCF's mission,” says RCF board member Nicole Mackoway. “We see ISTAR as a fantastic program that is doing just that—removing boundaries created by communication disorders to allow people to achieve new goals and dreams.”

While she still has some distance to go when it comes to reaching her goals of clear speech, Pashniak is confident ISTAR set her on the path to success. 

“My speech is a lot better. I hope to keep improving using the techniques I learned at ISTAR—the most important, for me, being to practice, practice, practice. And to slow down!

“And to the REALTORS® Community Foundation, I offer my heartfelt thanks. Without assistance from them and from ISTAR, I have no idea how long it would have been before I was able to find my voice again.” 

- With files from Amie Filkow

For more information about the ISTAR Client Assistance Program and how you can make a difference in the lives of individuals like Lisa, please contact John Voyer, Assistant Dean, Development, at 780-248-5781 or jvoyer@ualberta.ca.