Aphasia: Meet Nick Cann


Nick Cann was chief executive of the Institute of Financial Planning when a stroke left him with severe aphasia.

Nick has been kind enough to share some of his experience of aphasia with us to raise awareness of this complex communication and language disorder. 

I was lecturing CFP students in Northampton when I collapsed. An ambulance was called and I was rushed to Northampton hospital.  My wife Jo and children were contacted and later learnt that I had suffered a major stroke which had affected the left-hand side of my brain. When I was admitted to hospital I had a scan of my brain and thrombalised. This was so important with my recovery as it helps to improve blood flow to the brain. I don’t remember much about the day of my stroke but from what I have been told my face dropped, my speech became slurry and I collapsed.

The stroke affected the right hand side of my body having no feeling or movement at all. I was moved to Oxford John Radcliffe specialist hospital due to concerns that swelling in my brain was not decreasing and operation may need to be performed. Luckily for me the swelling stabilised and I did not need to have surgery. The day after my family and close friends came up to visit. I found this very difficult as I could not communicate with my children Jemma 18, Rhys 16, Rebecca 15.

“Initially I couldn’t even say or write my name.”

Due to the stroke I suffer with aphasia and dyspraxia and although I can now read and write most things I really struggled with this, so reading newspapers, Facebook and Twitter became very frustrating and difficult. I couldn’t for weeks and weeks and had confusion with yes and no. Initially I couldn’t even say or write my name. I started saying words and using photos to help me say family and friends names.

nick1When I was home, after 7 weeks in hospital, I began to recover quicker although my speech was still a massive issue. APP’s (www.tactustherapy.com) I went to speech therapy classes weekly and speech improved although even now 4.5 years on I still struggle with words due to my dyspraxia and Aphasia


It has been a hard 4.5 years of dedication and determination but every day I am improving and will continue to do so with the support of the Stroke Association Wales, friends and family.

This blog was published in association with the Stroke Association. Click here to find out more and donate to support their work.

Wings is running at the Young Vic until 4 Nov. Emily, a fiercely independent aviator and wing walker, suffers a stroke that destroys her sense of reality.

Fragments of her life come together as she struggles to find her voice and her self.

Aphasia: Meet John Smejka

Taken with Lumia Selfie

John with his wife Paula

John Smejka was Head of Engineering at Anglian Water living in Lincolnshire when a stroke left him with severe aphasia. John has been kind enough to share some of his experience with us to raise awareness of this complex communication and language disorder. 

We spent Christmas Day in Lincoln and Boston hospitals, I had a terrible headache and couldn’t see from my left eye. It was about 4 o’clock in the afternoon the stroke hit me and I no longer had use of the right leg and arm and I couldn’t speak any words, not a word. I thought that was how it would be for the rest of my life, unable to work, play the guitar or speak.

“I thought that was how it would be for the rest of my life, unable to work, play the guitar or speak.”

While I was in hospital, I didn’t want many visitors, but my fiancée (Paula) my children and my parents visited. If I could talk, it would have been easier to have visitors. Talking is the key. When Paula visited we did therapy exercises, she pushed me for a ‘walk’ in my wheelchair, or she came on the bed for a TV watching cuddle – some things don’t change! When my parents visited, conversation was impossible, I couldn’t speak at all and they didn’t do anything except visit me, so had nothing to talk about. Eventually I told them they needed to visit me less often.


John and Paula with family on their wedding day

When I came home from hospital, Paula had moved into my house, with her son (Cameron). Paula and Cameron had to be with me all the time, they helped me with my exercises and we learnt how to communicate together. My relationship with Cameron really started at that time, it is based on mutual interests and silly humour, it has perhaps been easier for Cameron to accept my difficulties as we didn’t know each other so well before my stroke.

It has been harder for some of my children to come to terms with my stroke, especially dealing with aphasia as it hides my feelings, knowledge and stories. The two kids I was closest to before my stroke have found this most difficult, whereas the other two, seem to have adjusted much better, one of them even says he feels closer to me now than he did back then.


John, busy digging a pond in his garden

My relationship with Paula is still good (she is my wife now!), we used to spend hours talking, now we are quiet more often but she tries to work with me so I can tell her stories, ideas and feelings. It makes Paula really sad when she misses my ‘wise counsel’ at times of difficulty.

My social life has almost disappeared. The aphasia makes it so hard to chat, especially in large groups which is how I used to socialise. I know that my friends miss me and I feel bad that I don’t go out more but it’s just not as much fun anymore – I can’t help that.

This blog was published in association with the Stroke Association. Click here to find out more and donate to support their work.

Wings is running at the Young Vic until 4 Nov. Emily, a fiercely independent aviator and wing walker, suffers a stroke that destroys her sense of reality.

Fragments of her life come together as she struggles to find her voice and her self.

Wings: Join us ‘In Conversation’ for a series of post-show talks

juliet-bannerWings runs at the Young Vic until 4 Nov. This production tells the story of Emily Stilson who once walked on the wings of aeroplanes until a severe stroke drastically alters the way she encounters the world.

We’re very pleased to announce that we’ll be hosting three post show talks exploring stroke, brain injury, neurological research and the staging of our production. These will give you the chance to listen in on an engaging discussion between our varied selection of panelists.

If you would like to attend these talks, come and see the show on the evening that the talk takes place.

Thursday 21 September
In Conversation with Arthur Kopit and David Lan

David Lan is a playwright, theatre director and social anthropologist. Artistic director of the Young Vic since 2000, he has produced more than 150 shows and directed, amongst others, A Raisin in the Sun, Doctor Faustus, The Daughter-in-Law, The Skin of Our Teeth, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone and Blackta, as well as As You Like It in the West End.

Playwright Arthur Kopit is the author of Wings (Tony Nominee, Finalist for Pulitzer Prize). Current projects include Discovery of America, a play based on the journals of the Spanish conquistador, Cabeza de Vaca; and two new plays Secrets of the Rich and The Incurables. Mr. Kopit is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the Lark Play Development Center where he heads the Lark Playwrights’ Workshop.


Thursday 5 October
In Conversation with Juliet Stevenson and Lucy Maran and Sally McVicker

Juliet Stevenson returns to the Young Vic in Wings following her acclaimed performance in Happy Days.
Other theatre includes: Mary Stuart, Hamlet (Almeida/West End); The Heretic, Alice Trilogy, The Country, Other Worlds (Royal Court); Duet for One, for which she was nominated an Olivier Award for Best Actress (Almeida/West End); The Seagull, Private Lives, Hedda Gabler, Yerma (National Theatre), Death and the Maiden, for which she won an Oliver Award for Best Actress (Royal Court/West End); Les Liasons Dangereuses, As You Like It, Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure, for which she was nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Actress and was awarded the Critics’ Circle Theatre Award for Best Actress (all RSC).

Lucy Maran is a speech and language specialist who works in the Acute and Community Stroke Team at the Royal Hospital London.

Dr Sally McVicker is a speech and language specialist who runs Aphasia Reconnect – a charity helping people with aphasia re-connect with life in the community.


Thursday 19 October
In Conversation with Natalie Abrahami, Dr Paul Jarman and Peter Rothwell 

Natalie Abrahami is a former Genesis Fellow and Associate Director at the Young Vic.
Young Vic credits includes: Happy Days, After Miss Julie and Ah, Wilderness! and the short films MAYDAY, The Roof and Life’s a Pitch.
Her credits as former co-Artistic Director of the Gate Theatre include: Vanya and The Kreutzer Sonata which later transferred to La MaMa, New York.
Other credits include: Queen Anne (Royal Shakespeare Company / Theatre Royal Haymarket), How the Whale Became and Other Tales (Royal Opera House), The Eleventh Capital (Royal Court), A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Headlong) and Pericles (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre). Natalie was also an Associate Artist at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton between 2013 and 2015 and Associate Director at Hull Truck in 2012 where she directed Yerma and Hitchcock Blonde. Natalie won the James Menzies-Kitchin Award for Directors in 2005 for her double-bill of Play and Not I (Battersea Arts Centre).

Dr Paul Jarman is a Consultant Neurologist based at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery. He trained at Oxford and London Universities before completing research and a PhD in molecular genetic aspects of movement disorders.  His subspecialist interests include Parkinson’s disease and movement disorders, acute neurology and use of botulinum toxin to treat post stroke spasticity. He  is interested in medical education and as Training Programme Director for neurology in London is passionate about training the next generation of neurologists.

Peter Rothwell is the Professor of Neurology at Oxford University and Director of the Centre for Prevention of Stroke and Dementia (CPSD), which he founded with funding from the Wolfson Foundation and the Wellcome Trust. His research group, which includes about 40 staff, studies the causes of stroke and strategies for improving prevention. Rothwell has published over 500 research papers and has been the recipient of many awards, including the Queen’s Anniversary Prize for Higher and Further Education.

Wings is generously supported by the Richenthal Foundation, Wellcome Trust and Cockayne Grants for the Arts, a donor advised fund of the London Community Foundation.