Brain stem stroke leaves Ohio man paralyzed

Brett Walls,at his home in Withamsville, suffered a stroke in 2014. The only parts of his body he can move are his neck and head. He started writing poems by holding a stylus between his teeth and choosing one letter at a time on his iPad.

I miss big long conversations more than anything

Brett Walls says this by typing out a text with an elongated stylus he holds in his mouth. He moves his head up and down, pecking each letter on an iPad mounted to his wheelchair. His feet are strapped in and a blue towel sits on his chest to collect saliva.

Brett had a stroke in 2014, and it left him almost completely paralyzed. He doesn’t know what caused it, or why exactly it happened. He just knows his life will never be the same.

Now 57, Brett drives an electric wheelchair without using his hands, steering instead with sensors he controls by moving his head. When asked what people don't understand about his condition, he answers in texts. 

How the mind stays active

Almost over active

Sometimes it feels like too much

Brett Walls uses a stylus on his tablet to converse with others and to compose his poetry.

Brett has a computer program that can speak for him, but he doesn’t use it much. He and his wife rarely talk anymore. It’s too difficult. And it takes too long.

To Gayle Payton Walls, it often feels like she’s playing the same game as her husband but on different fields. There are times, lots of times, she feels isolated and lonely. After his stroke, she quit her job as a personal chef to take care of him. She doesn’t cook much anymore.

It’s a reminder she is no longer just Brett’s wife. She’s also his caregiver. 

There are times, lots of times, Brett feels terrible guilt. He wrote a poem giving his wife permission to leave. He’s also written about how grateful he is that she hasn’t.  

Gayle Payton Walls helps her husband, Brett, with everyday tasks. He once gave her permission to leave him. She stayed.

Before his stroke, Brett was a restaurant manager. Before that, he’d been a musician, a hairstylist and a college dropout. He was someone who put hot sauce on everything he ate and who needed to create to feel alive.

After his stroke, and eight surreal months in the hospital, he felt dead. And afraid. He could still listen to music, but he couldn’t play it. He could read books, but he couldn’t hold them in his hands.

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