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Sunday, September 13, 2009

The greening of Gray Gardening has no side effects

Susan Gray harvests a head of lettuce from her garden behind her Terryville home. Whatever Gray doesn't use herself, she puts up for sale at her farm stand in front of her house, called Zelda's Vegetables. Josalee Thrift / Republican-American

For the life of her, she couldn't remember the word "jaw." In 2006, Susan Gray was trying to explain a new pain to her neurologist. But her mind couldn't retrieve the word. Aphasia, the partial or total loss of ability to articulate ideas or understand language, is one of the remaining side effects from a stroke Gray had in 2004 when she was 49.

The other effects — the loss of her job as a chief financial officer, temporary paralysis of her right side — were ultimately less aggravating than the aphasia. Numbers, once her lifeblood, are now gibberish. But what makes sense is her plentiful 2,500-square-foot garden in Terryville. The garden has become her sustenance and her passion.

Most people have up to a year and a half to recover from a stroke, said Dr. Steven Eisen, medical director of the stroke program at Waterbury Hospital. After that window, progress plateaus. To compensate, Gray is finding new ways to communicate. For example, when she couldn't will herself to remember "jaw," she looked up "chin" in the dictionary, then called a friend and described the part of the face.

"Mandible?" her friend asked, before exclaiming, "Jaw!"

After asking how to spell it, Gray wrote down "gar."

"It's kind of comical," said Gray, who is now 54 and has short blond hair and blue eyes. "I can't write an e-mail, and I have to listen to a voice mail five times to get the number down right, but I had been a finance person who drew up complicated insurance contracts."

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