Herman Koo had to re-learn to walk, talk, eat and write after being randomly shot in the forehead in March 2018.
When he woke up from a 10-day coma with the bullet still wedged in his brain, his dad said it was already a miracle. Doctors never expected him to survive.
However he was unable to communicate with his parents. It turns out the shooting had given him aphasia, a neurological communication disorder often seen in stroke patients.
“Aphasia affects first and foremost your ability to verbally express yourself. It can also impact your ability to understand what people are saying to you. It can impact your ability to write and it can impact your ability to read,” Andrea Ruelling, a speech language pathologist from the University of Alberta, said.
Herman started reading the same books he had in kindergarten, re-learning the very basics. He also read articles and played card games like Go Fish to work on his speech.
He went through hours of physiotherapy in addition to speech therapy, to combat his aphasia.
“He was so hard working and he always wanted more homework to go home and practice. He would come back and you would notice the improvements that he made,” Ruelling said.
After more than a year in hospital, being treated in a clinical setting, Herman went to a special retreat — the Alberta Aphasia Camp.
“The camp gave him the opportunity — not just him but all the people — to work together, support each other, interact with each other, sing together and try so many different challenges like walk on a rope,” Simon Koo, Herman’s father, explained.
“I learned to hike. I learned to cook and baking,” Herman said.
The camp is run through the University of Alberta and is aimed at encouraging people with aphasia to dive back into life.
“You can increase somebody’s confidence and change their goals from, ‘I want to be able to speak better’ to ‘I want to date again’ or ‘I tried yoga, I want to go to a yoga class,'” Ruelling said.
“If you wanted to go to a yoga class and you needed to call and find out or read the internet, read a schedule, there’s a lot of language involved in all aspects of our life that we kind of take for granted.”
The camp started in 2014 and has grown to 80 participants over the weekend.
Months after attending the camp, Herman talks about the experience often, his dad says. He’s also stayed in contact with some friends he made there.
This year, the Alberta Aphasia Camp will take place in Gull Lake Sept. 18-20.