As Stroke Awareness Month comes to an end, one local volunteer firefighter discusses the tough mental and physical journey he’s been on as he recovers from not one, but two strokes.

“They took the clot out and within 24 hours, he was able to talk. He was walking and coherent. Then six days later he had another stroke,” said Laura Hawton, Eric Hawton’s wife.

 Laura recalls those days back in 2016 when her husband’s life was changed forever.
“When I was in the hospital, the doctor said it was an anomaly,” said Eric.

It left the Sandoval County firefighter fighting for his life and his ability to speak.

‘When the stroke happened, I was only able to speak five words,” said Eric.

Eric now suffers from Aphasia and Apraxia, language disorders that make it difficult to find the words to say and for the mouth to move in order to form the words.

“I have good days. Sometimes I have bad days. But it’s all because of what I’m doing in the day,” said Eric.

With every day that passes, Eric continues to show tremendous progress.

“My comprehension is now a 5th-grade level,” said Eric.

After his stroke, it was around that of a kindergarten or first-grade level.

He’s made progress thanks to 18 months of hard work, including therapy at UNM Hospital and participating in studies with Dr. Jessica Richardson at UNM’s Speech and Hearing Sciences.

“You got to wear a blue cap with a bunch of electrodes on his head. We turned the brain stimulation on for a certain period of time that we were also doing behavioral treatment. 

He also credits being part of reading groups through UNM’s Speech and Hearing Sciences and spending hours reading and writing freehand at home.

“When you have Aphasia and Apraxia it’s hard to talk. It’s hard to have those conversations. So what people tend to do is not do it as much and to become isolated and withdraw from all the things in our lives that involve language. You really have to do those things that are hard,” said Richardson.

Another important tool is having a great support system.

“Sometimes when I’m struggling with what I want to say, my wife says ‘I’m here all week. Take your time,'” said Eric.

Eric says his goal is to return to work as both a volunteer firefighter and a civil engineer in a year.

Richardson says it is possible.

“He has a lot of work to do. You’ll continue to improve years and year and years down the road. That’s good hard science in the language domain, the motor domain sensory domain, that you can continue improvement,” said Richardson.

Eric’s advice for other people recovering from a stroke is to use the tools that are available and be patient.