A stroke has caused serious speech problems that Mark Goodman, 68, is working to overcome, but there is nothing wrong with his spirit. (Photo by Jonna Naylor, taken before the stroke)

by Carole Verona

Mark Goodman was a very busy man. In addition to managing Earthcraft, his Mt. Airy-based landscaping/gardening business, he taught courses at the Mt. Airy Learning Tree for more years than he can remember and wrote a column for The Shuttle, Weavers Way Co-op’s monthly newspaper.

Mark received a B.A. in English from Temple University in 1968 and an M.A. in Bilingual/Bicultural Studies from LaSalle University in 1998. In addition to those activities mentioned above, he was a part-time instructor of developmental reading and writing at Community College of Philadelphia and of business writing and remedial writing at Temple University. He taught English at Chestnut Hill Academy, Germantown Friends School and the Crefeld School, where he was also the athletic director and the basketball and soccer coach. He conducted professional development workshops at Community College of Philadelphia on subjects as diverse as Mexican American literature and looking at World War II through the eyes of minority groups.

At 68, the West Oak Lane native is still just as busy, but his emphasis has shifted from gardening, teaching and writing to participating in speech therapy sessions and related activities at MossRehab and in a clinical trial sponsored by the University of Pennsylvania, where researchers are studying the part of the brain that gives rise to language.

Mark’s life changed dramatically in February of 2012. While out with friends, he began to exhibit symptoms and behaviors associated with a stroke. He was rushed to Lankenau Medical Center in Wynnewood, where he remained hospitalized for four days. He was then transferred to MossRehab, where he spent five weeks as an inpatient and then continued with outpatient physical therapy.

Mark was so well known in the community that his presence was missed, and folks began to wonder what had happened. After they found out that he was recovering from a stroke, several of his neighbors contacted Len Lear, Local Life editor, and said they would like to see an article about Mark and his progress in the Chestnut Hill Local to let his countless admirers know about his status.

During a recent interview, Mark was assisted by his long-time friend Len Sosnov, who helped him communicate verbally. Mark said that “the stroke just happened; it came on suddenly without warning.” A few months earlier, he had an episode where he experienced numbness in one arm, but he had no history of high blood pressure, which can often lead to a stroke. (Sosnov, a Wyndmoor resident, and Goodman first met while they were high school sports competitors. Mark ran on Central High’s track team, and Len was on the Northeast High School team. They became reaquainted as Temple University students.)

Now that the physical therapy is over, he says he’s in great shape physically. However, the stroke has affected the areas of his brain that control speech and language. The result is a condition called aphasia.

Mary Detwiler, administrative coordinator of the Aphasia Center at MossRehab, explained that aphasia is a communications disorder that affects people in different ways. “For example, someone with aphasia may be able to speak very well but may not be able to write at all. Someone else may be able to write or read a little but not like they did before. It’s all over the place.”

Detwiler said that insurance only pays for a limited amount of speech therapy. “Research has shown that people with aphasia can continue to improve for years later, so what do you do and how do you continue to work on your skills when you no longer have health insurance helping you on a lot of these things?”

That’s where a place like the Aphasia Center comes in. Created 16 years ago, the center allows people to participate for a minimal fee in programs that will help them cope and, hopefully, improve.

Mark attends a conversation café at MossRehab, for example. “At the conversation café,” explained Detwiler, “a group of seven to 10 people, supported by a speech language pathologist and specially trained volunteers, meet for an hour a week to engage in stimulating conversation about a variety of topics that interest them. One group focuses on sports: the Eagles, the Flyers, the Phillies and whatever other teams are out there. Some of our members are New York or Baltimore fans, so the conversation can be quite lively. We’ve also got a group that likes to talk about going out to dinner or about their grandkids. Another discusses what’s current in the newspaper.”

With aphasia, people retain their knowledge — they know what they want to say — but the mechanisms in their brains are not allowing them to formulate or complete sentences. Often, other people don’t have the patience to stand there and wait until the aphasia patient gets it together.

“In our groups, people give each other the time and the space they need,” Detwiler added. “We’ll sit there and wait until the person can take a step back and start over. These are really very powerful opportunities for people to help each other. The speech language pathologist can offer strategies to help people get around a block they’re coming up against. Is there another way you can say it? Can you use a gesture instead?”

Mark is also involved in a program called Playing Your Cards Right. “Playing cards is considered therapeutic,” explained Detwiler, “because when you’re playing cards with your friends you’re sitting there talking. There’s a conversational exchange. You’re also using counting, attention, and memory skills. Anything you can do to stimulate your brain in that kind of way can help long-term with the side effects of aphasia.”

After he had the stroke, Mark, again with the help of Len Sosnov, recruited Mark Smith, of Glenside, to manage the day-to-day operations of Earthcraft. The company made it through the season, but then Mark had to make the difficult decision to give up the business he nurtured and loved for 29 years. His long-time crew chief, Valentin Melchor, is now operating the business under the name Valentin & Son. Angel Pacheco, an employee of Earthcraft, stayed on to work with Valentin. Mark believes it has been a seamless transition for the customers that he provided with excellent service at a fair price for so many years.

In addition to keeping busy with the programs at MossRehab and Penn, Mark still volunteers at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and continues to do gardening at home. He enjoys playing — and winning — poker games with his friends.

Heidi Shore-Brown, his partner, has been “like an angel, terrific in everything,” Mark said. His son, Alex, and his daughters, Angie and Betsy, have also provided much-appreciated support. When asked what he would like to say to all those in the community who care and who have asked about him, Mark said without hesitation two words that were packed with power and emotion. “Thank you!”

For more information, go to www.mossrehab.com/Communication-Disorders-and-Aphasia/mossrehab-aphasia-center.html