Gabrielle Giffords' Therapist Collaborates With UCF to Promote Art Therapy

Nancy Helm-Estabrooks, the neurological-disorders expert who has been treating former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, is visiting the University of Central Florida this week to promote the benefits of art as part of stroke therapy.

Giffords was shot in 2011 losing her ability to speak. She resigned earlier this year and continues to recover.

Helm-Estabrooks, a national expert on aphasia, the loss of speech that results from a stroke or other neurologic injury, is consulting with UCF’s Janet Whiteside on the innovative techniques being used at The Aphasia House, a treatment facility at UCF.

The Aphasia House, one of only five intensive aphasia programs in the country, teams speech-language pathology graduate students with clients to work one-on-one for four hours a day every day for six-week to help improve their ability to speak after brain injuries.

The clinic, which resembles a house with a kitchen, garage and living room, provides a familiar setting. The rooms are decorated with photographs taken by some of the clients.

For the past two years, stroke survivors have worked with Whiteside and Dawn Roe, a professor of art at Rollins College to explore photography and help patients express themselves and their feelings.

“There is evidence that art helps in the rehabilitative process,” said Whiteside, chair of the Board of Clinical Educators at the UCF Communication Disorders Clinic.

Helm-Estabrooks is an advocate of using the arts as part of the rehabilitation process, which is why she is joining Whiteside in Orlando this week.

After visiting The Aphasia House on Friday morning, the two will visit the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens in Winter Park. Polasek was a stroke survivor and completed 29 sculptures after his stroke, many of which are showcased at the museum.

Whiteside is working with the museum to establish a pilot program that would connect stroke survivors to the world of art.