A story from every corner
Every lived experience offers opportunity for important meaning and lessons to be gleaned. It can become an even more rewarding experience when sharing it with others.
Two independent living residents at Bluestem Communities’ Kidron Bethel Village life plan campus understand that reward first-hand, and recently received recognition for sharing their life experiences through the books they have written.
Justina Neufeld is the author of Justa’s Escape: A Journey from World War II Ukraine (Resource Publications, May 2022), which was one of 15 books honored with the 2023 Kansas Notable Book award by the State Library of Kansas. Harold Regier is the author of A Decade of Aphasia Therapy – Aphasia- Friendly Reading: A Technique for Oral Communication (self-published, 2021), and presented about the technique he created at the 2023 annual convention of American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) in November.
While the authors’ subject matter are vastly different, both are memoirs – recalling very particular parts of their own lives – and Regier’s also ventures into research-based documentation.
JUSTA’S ESCAPE BY JUSTINA NEUFELD
Neufeld first documented her family’s 1943 escape from World War II-ravaged Ukraine in A Family Torn Apart (Pandora Press, 2003), which chronicled the story of how the life she knew crumbled and was rebuilt in the war’s aftermath. Nearly 20 years later in 2022, the story was released again as Justa’s Escape, a re-working written in free verse for a middle school-age audience.
The idea of writing her story for a younger audience was first presented to Justina while she was writing A Family Torn Apart. A friend’s daughter, who was a sixth grade teacher in Wichita, asked Justina to come share her story with the class shortly after they had finished reading Anne Frank’s story.
“I said I couldn’t do it,” Justina said. “I was writing my book and didn’t want to expend my energy talking about it while I was also writing it. However, I had a story about a slip my mother had made me from a pillowcase, and I would be willing to share that story. While I was reading, a little girl sitting in the front started crying. She later told me that her parents were getting divorced and she didn’t know where she was going to live. She saw herself in my story of being a refugee.”
Justina’s friend was persistent in encouraging her to write her story as “one that sixth-graders can read.” “When I finally sat down to write it, it flowed so easily,” she said.
Neufeld knows that sharing this piece of world history with younger audiences is important to educate and inform them about history. Likewise, as her friend Beverley Olson Buller shares in the foreward to Justa’s Escape: “Books have long provided young readers with a way to vicariously experience pain, sadness and hardship. [This book] does that for young readers today.”
Neufeld says she was surprised that her book had been nominated for the Kansas Notable Book award, and she was honored to win. She enjoyed meeting other authors during the award activities in Topeka, Kan., in September.
The 80 years that have passed since Justina was a girl in Ukraine haven’t numbed the pain of the losses and trauma she endured. She still feels the emotions both when she shares her story, and when she reflects on the war happening now in her home country.
“It’s been very hard,” Neufeld said about the current Ukrainian war in a September 16, 2023, interview with Kansas Public Radio in Lawrence, Kan. “I hear about the cities mentioned – every place I have been. It’s horrifying; the fear they live with gives me goosebumps.”
A DECADE OF APHASIA THERAPY BY HAROLD REGIER
Regier wrote A Decade of Aphasia Therapy to chronicle the journey of navigating his wife Rosella’s aphasia diagnosis following a stroke in 2009, and the successful communication technique he discovered along the way.
Aphasia is the loss of the ability to understand or express speech. For 13 years, the Regiers navigated a unique journey full of experimentation, discovery and dedication. Rosella ultimately passed away in May 2022.
“This is not a biography,” Regier wrote in the book’s introduction. “It is the story of a new life experience that takes us into the mystery of aphasia. I do not have an academic or clinical understanding of aphasia. But I have a sense of how aphasia affects day-to-day living. And I understand the challenge and struggle of the journey of continuing a loving and creative relationship through this new reality. And communication is one of the keys to maintaining that relationship.”
Aphasia-friendly reading is, in short, a reading strategy Regier developed that helped Rosella with oral reading, and a way for the couple to continue to connect with one another. The technique requires writing and formatting stories or anecdotes using very short three- to five-word sentences that can be read alternately by the aphasia client and a co-reader. As people with aphasia have difficulty finding the correct words to express, the simple, short sentences allow for greater accuracy and fluency.
For many years, Rosella participated in speech therapy through Wichita State University’s (WSU) Speech-Language- Hearing Clinic, where masters-level students majoring in communication disorders studied aphasia clients and provided therapy for them. Regier shared with clinicians about his aphasia-friendly readings. Dr. Erin O’Bryan, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, a certified speech language pathologist and assistant professor in the WSU Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, continues to test the technique with other aphasia clients. Katie Strong, a professor and researcher at Central Michigan University (Mt. Pleasant) is also studying the technique. The professors collaborated on a presentation at the November ASHA convention in Boston, in which they invited Regier to present his story for how he discovered and created the aphasia-friendly reading technique. O’Bryan, Strong and Regier have also co-authored an article for the journal “Aphasiology” that has been approved for publication.
“I am honored that this technique has gotten into the national research,” Regier said. “I will continue to be an advocate for educating others on the underdiagnosed and underexplained disorder of aphasia, and will always be happy to share what I learned in my journey with Rosella.”